Police killings in Maryland go unpunished as they do in the rest of the country. Kwamena Ocran was just one of of many Black victims in his community.
Kwamena Ocran, 24, was murdered on January 8, 2021 by Gaithersburg, Maryland police. Kwamena, according to his mother Melody Cooper was “an artist [who] had just begun recording music in a studio” — [he] was visiting his girlfriend on the day he was killed. When he went outside, police approached and chased him, and witnesses saw him shot from behind.” The report that Montgomery County prosecutors released said officers reported that Ocran fired a gun in their direction, and the officers responded, hitting him multiple times. He died at the scene.
The four plain clothes Gaithersburg police officers were members of the Department’s Street Crimes Unit. According to official reports they decided to surveil and later chase Ocran after receiving a “tip” that he was armed with a handgun. The police have not explained why they considered the tip credible and why four undercover police felt compelled to stop Kwamena as he walked back to his apartment. No crimes had been reported in the area. Minutes after the police approached Ocran, he lay dying on the street.
On October 7, 2021, a Montgomery County, Maryland grand jury declined to charge police officers for the murder of Kwamena Ocran. Kwamena was heir to the Fante Stool (Fante Kingdom, Ghana) following the death of his father and grandmother. He was planning a trip to Ghana to accept leadership responsibilities.
Technicians recovered 17 shell casings on the night of the shooting and six during later searches, for a total of 23. All 23 casings came from the officers’ weapons, the report says. No shell casings were found matching the gun that police reported finding near Kwamena. There was also no residue of gun powder on him. The family asserts that the police planted the gun near Kwamena’s body. An autopsy performed on January 9, 2021 indicated eight gunshot wounds: including two on Ocran’s back, one on his right hip/lower back, two on his left arm, one on his right thigh, one on his left thigh and a graze wound on his penis.
The four officers who killed Kwamena Ocran are Sgt. Willie Delgado (17-year veteran,) Cpl. Larbi Dakkouni (8-year veteran,) Officer James Doyle (5-year veteran,) and Officer Kyle Khuen (5-year veteran). Gaithersburg police said the officers remain on administrative leave.
The usual sham internal investigation is reportedly underway to determine if the officers’ actions followed departmental policies. Undercover officers are not required in Maryland to wear body cameras. County Council members have recently indicated an interest in introducing Kwamena’s Law that would require undercover police to wear body cameras. Howard County, Maryland police reviewed the case as part of a reciprocal agreement with Montgomery County when investigating a fatal shooting. This arrangement is essentially a bureaucratic white-washing between two police departments to present a thin veneer of due process.
Kwamena Ocran’s mother, Melody Cooper, issued a statement saying that police and prosecutors “are responsible for the murder and the lack of accountability in the murder of my son… I demand for this case to be reopened and investigated by the attorney general, which I had demanded at the beginning of this case because I was afraid that police investigating police would yield no accountability. … I will not remain silent because these murders must stop.”
“The prosecutor and the police investigators did not ensure that all of the full information was provided …,” Cooper’s statement said. “The bottom line is plainclothes police without body cameras murdered my son.”
The Killing Field:
There have been at least five other shootings by police in Montgomery County in recent times, resulting in one indictment:
• On April 7, off-duty Pentagon Officer David Hall Dixon fatally shot Dominique Williams, 32, of Hyattsville and James Lionel Johnson, 38, of Washington, D.C., in the parking lot of a Takoma Park condominium building. Dixon was indicted on charges of murder and attempted murder.
• In June, Sgt. Frank Pruitt of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office was cleared of wrongdoing after shooting and killing Kevin Costlow on February 6.
• On July 16, Montgomery County police officers shot and killed Ryan Leroux, 21, of Gaithersburg, Maryland. Authorities have not released any findings in that case.
• Montgomery County police Sgt. David Cohen shot Finan Berhe, 30, in 2020. He was cleared of wrongdoing. Family members report that Berhe was suffering from mental illness.
• Robert White, 41, was shot and killed by a Montgomery County police officer in 2018. His family is suing the county. Officer Anand Badgujar was cleared of wrongdoing after a department internal review and a review by the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office.
County Executive Marc Elrich said in July that the county would work with the nonprofit Effective Law Enforcement for All to review the use of force in specific cases in which officers fatally shot people.
Out of the four cases of Black men killed by Montgomery County this year only one officer has been charged. The democratic County Executive, elected with majority Black votes has been nearly silent on the murder of young Black men issuing vacuous statements such as the “review of force should be evaluated.” While young Black men are being killed by Montgomery County police, this County Executive is running for re-election and courting the Black vote.
It is obvious that Black life is still not valued in the United States. Elected officials know they will not be held accountable while still being confident of support from Black constituents.
Dr. Marsha Adebayo is the author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated: No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. She blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit led to the passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act) Currently, she is working to stop desecration of an African burial ground in Bethesda, Maryland. For more information, please go to: bethesdaafricancemeterycoalition.net.
She is one of the hosts of WPFW’s “What’s at Stake” in Washington, DC.