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Family of handcuffed Black man shot dead by officer awarded $20 million in "historic" settlement

Officials in Prince George's County, Maryland, have agreed to a $20 million settlement with the family of an unarmed Black man who was fatally shot by an officer in January while handcuffed in a police cruiser. Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced the settlement Monday in the shooting of 43-year-old William Howard Green.

"To be clear, there is no price that you can put on the life of a son, a father, an uncle, a brother — there is no appropriate price tag to accompany a loss like that," Alsobrooks said, speaking next to Green's family. "But we believe the actions taken that night against Mr. Green, and ultimately taken against his family, warrant this settlement."

Alsobrooks apologized to Green's family, who cried and embraced, wearing clothing emblazoned with Green's face.

Prince George's County Police Corporal Michael Owen Jr., the officer accused of shooting Green, was arrested in January on charges of second-degree murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, first-degree assault and use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence.

Corporal Michael Owen (L) and William Green (R) CBS affiliate WUSA-TV

A police report from January said the shooting happened after Owen handcuffed Green, of Washington, D.C., behind his back and placed him in his patrol car after responding to a traffic accident and finding him sleeping in his vehicle.

Police initially said there were witness reports of a struggle inside the police cruiser but investigators didn't find any evidence of a fight between Owen and Green before Green was shot in the front passenger seat.

A prosecutor, Renee Joy, said in January that Green posed "absolutely no threat." Owen is Black. 

Family attorney Billy Murphy said Monday the "civil justice phase" is complete, and the family now awaits justice in the criminal case against Owen. Murphy called the civil settlement "historic" and said it reflects the "heinous nature, the brutal nature, the senseless nature of what happened to Mr. Green."

Brenda Green, center, the mother of William Green, who was shot dead by police while handcuffed in Prince George's County, Maryland, cries as county officials announce a $20 million settlement. CBS affiliate WUSA-TV

"In this case, the takeaway is that the Black life of Mr. Green truly mattered, and the Black lives of his mother and two children truly matter," Murphy said.  

The settlement is believed to be one of the country's largest one-time settlements involving someone killed by police, reports the Washington Post. It comes weeks after the family of Breonna Taylor, the Black woman killed during a March police raid in her Louisville home, was awarded $12 million. 

In another Maryland case, the family of Korryn Gaines, the 23-year-old mother killed during a 2016 police standoff outside Baltimore, was awarded $38 million. The city of Chicago paid $16 million to the family of Bettie Jones, a bystander killed by a Chicago officer in 2014. And the family of Justine Damond, the 911 caller shot dead by a Minneapolis officer in 2017, was awarded $20 million.

The Green settlement dwarfs those reached in several other high-profile police killings of Black men, including $6.4 million in the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore, $5.9 millions for the family of Eric Garner in New York City, $1.5 million for the family of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and $3 million for the family of Philando Castile in St. Paul.

Owen was denied bond in January by a judge who said he found convincing evidence that the officer posed a danger to the community. Defense attorney Jonathon Scruggs said in January that Owen is an ordained minister and doesn't pose a danger. 

The state's attorney's office confirmed to The Associated Press that jury selection in the case was scheduled to begin in March 2021.

Prince George's County has nearly 1 million residents and its police department is Maryland's fourth largest law-enforcement agency, with more than 1,500 officers covering a wide swath of the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that the police department's early-warning system flagged Owen months before he shot Green. Owen triggered the system by using force twice in quick succession last summer, but his supervisors had not been formally notified until January and did not act before Owen killed Green, the newspaper reported.

Owen was involved in at least two other shootings. In 2011, he fatally shot a man who pointed a gun at him after Owen left an event at police headquarters, the department said. The man's family, however, disputed he had a gun. Owen was placed on administrative leave after that killing.

In 2009, Owen was off-duty when someone tried to rob him outside his home, the Post reported. Police officials said the would-be robber fired, but Owen was not hit and returned fire. The assailant fled, according to police.

Alsobrooks said that the county would engage a task force to review the police department's hiring, training and use of force policies. 

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