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In the matter of the January 16, 2019 death of Mikyas Tegegne


ReportJohn McCarthy at a microphone

Timeline of Investigation
 
On January 16, 2019, Howard County State’s Attorney Richard Gibson received a phone call from Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy. State’s Attorney McCarthy informed State’s Attorney Gibson that an incident had occurred in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland whereby the Montgomery County Police had shot and killed a person. State’s Attorney Richard Gibson assigned two senior staff attorney’s, members of the Howard County State’s Attorney’s office, to handle the investigation.
 
Later in the day on January 16, 2019, the assigned attorneys from Howard County spoke to the Captain in charge of the investigation from Montgomery County Police. The police Captain provided preliminary information regarding the shooting. The Captain confirmed that the person shot by police was a male and that he was deceased. The Captain stated that the crime scene was still active as the Montgomery County Fire and Explosive Investigations Unit was inspecting a suspected bomb that the decedent was carrying. The Captain provided information regarding who would be the lead Detectives along with their contact information. The Howard County prosecutors then spoke with the lead Detective who was still at the crime scene. The lead Detective indicated that the decedent had attempted to rob a bank, exited the bank, was pursued by police, and then was shot and killed. The decedent was armed with a handgun and was wearing a backpack that the decedent claimed contained a bomb.
 
On January 17, 2019, additional details were provided to the Howard County prosecutors by the lead Detective. The lead Detective presented a detailed status of the investigation including identifying the decedent (Mikyas Tegegne) and the police officer who shot him (Officer Christopher LaPointe). Of significance, the lead Detective said that the shooting was captured on the body worn camera of Officer LaPointe. It was agreed that the lead Detective would provide the Howard County prosecutors with the body worn camera footage from Officer LaPointe as well as the body worn camera footage from all responding police officers.  Additionally, it was agreed that the lead Detective would gather the necessary evidence and present it to the Howard County prosecutors for their review.
 
Over the course of the next few weeks, the Howard County prosecutors consulted frequently with the lead Detective regarding the evidence gathering process. At times, the Howard County prosecutors directed the lead Detective to perform certain investigatory tasks. On February 19, 2019, the Howard County prosecutors met with the lead Detective at the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office. The lead Detective provided an external hard drive with the evidence he had gathered. Over the course of the next ten days, the lead Detective emailed two additional documents; a Firearms Report and Holy Cross Hospital Records.
 
On March 1, 2019, the Howard County prosecutors submitted written questions via email to Officer LaPointe’s attorney. His Attorney responded that she would meet with her client and provide the Howard County prosecutors with responses to their questions.
 
On March 6, 2019, the Howard County prosecutors met with the lead Detective at the BB&T Bank in Silver Spring. The lead Detective and the Howard County prosecutors walked through the BB&T bank and interviewed bank employees regarding the January 16, 2019 robbery. The lead Detective and the Howard County prosecutors then walked the crime scene which included the parking garage, multiple stairways, the street and the pathway leading to the Silver Spring Metro Station.
 
During the evening of March 6, 2019, the Howard County prosecutors received an email from Officer LaPointe’s attorney containing written responses to their questions.
 
On March 12, 2019, the Howard County prosecutors spoke to a supervisor within the Howard County Police Department who was briefed on the facts of the shooting.  The supervisor who is with the Howard County Police Department Education and Training Division, specializes in Use of Force training. The supervisor reviewed an audio/video file containing the 911 recordings, the body worn camera footage of Officer LaPointe, and the police radio transmissions. The supervisor’s opinion was that the shooting was in accordance with well recognized use of force standards involving threats of explosive devices.
 
On March 13, 2019, the Howard County prosecutors spoke with an instructor at the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy. The Academy is responsible for training new police officers. Police candidates, during basic training, receive a course on Use of Force. This Use of Force training provides specific lessons regarding mass violence, terrorism, explosive devices, and suicidal subjects. The instructor confirmed that Officer LaPointe received this training while in the Academy. The curriculum is patterned after the standards applied by the Department of Homeland Security.  After familiarizing himself with the case and reviewing the body worn camera footage of Officer LaPointe, it was the opinion of the instructor that Officer LaPointe acted reasonably and in accordance with use of force standards of the Montgomery County Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
 
Evidence Reviewed
The Howard County prosecutors reviewed the following evidence:
The recordings of four 911 calls
The written statement of five assisting police officers 
The audio recorded interviews of seven lay witnesses
The audio interviews of four BB&T employees
The security video from the BB&T bank
The written statement of five bank customers present at the time of the attempted robbery
The body worn camera footage of 14 uniformed officers who responded to assist in the investigation
Reviewed the notes of seven detectives assigned to the investigation
Computer Aided Dispatch Records
     o CAD Print Out
     o Incident Report
     o Sandy Spring Bank Incident Report from 12/24/2018
Electronic Crimes Unit
     o Digital Forensic Exam of Tegegne’s mobile phone
Emergency Medical Systems Report
Fire & Explosive Investigations
Firearms Reports
Forensic Services
     o Autopsy requests
Holy Cross Hospital Records
Maps
     o Area Overview
     o BB&T Bank
     o Bonifant Parking Garage
     o Incident Area
     o Walking Path in Garage
Mobile Vehicle System Dashboard Recording from Officer LaPointe’s vehicle
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
     o Autopsy Photos
     o Autopsy Report
Officer Training & Scores
Parking Garage
     o Garage Layout
     o Security Officer Interview
     o Video
Personal File for Officer LaPointe- Training Records, Handgun Scores
Photographs - Crime Scene, Evidence Collected (887 Photographs)
Police Radio Traffic Audio before/during/after the incident
Police Reports
     o BB&T Bank o Lab Report o OIS
     o Ruger Firearms Trace- MCPD Homicide 
     o Sandy Spring Bank
Press Releases
     o BB&T Bank
     o Sandy Spring Bank
Suspect Criminal History
Use of Force Handbook - MCPD
Video Surveillance
     o Buena Vida Restaurant
     o Herbafi
Three Witness Officers Video-Recorded Interviews
WMATA Surveillance Footage
Written Answers from the Attorney on behalf of Officer LaPointe
 
Summary of Facts
On January 16, 2019 at approximately 10:43 AM, Mikyas Tegegne walked into the BB&T Bank located at 1100 Wayne Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland. Tegegne was wearing a black backpack. Tegegne approached a bank employee and asked to speak to the manager. The bank manager approached Tegegne and Tegegne asked to speak to her in her office. Once Tegegne and the bank manager entered her office, Tegegne told the bank manager that he had a bomb inside of his backpack that was capable of blowing up the entire bank. Tegegne also lifted up his shirt exposing the handle of a handgun tucked in his waistband. Tegegne demanded $20,000. The bank manager exited the office and informed other bank employees of the robbery. Before the bank manager returned to her office, Tegegne exited her office and the bank. Tegegne walked south on Dixon Avenue.
 
Montgomery County Police Officer Christopher LaPointe responded to call for a robbery-in- progress at the BB&T Bank. Over the radio dispatch, Officer LaPointe was given a description of the robbery suspect and was advised that the robbery suspect was armed with a handgun. Officer LaPointe observed Tegegne, who matched the description given over police dispatch, exiting the BB&T bank and walking south on Dixon Avenue towards Bonifant Street. Officer LaPointe approached Tegegne and immediately gave verbal commands for Tegegne to stop and show his hands. Officer LaPointe observed a red wire protruding from Tegegne’s backpack.
Officer LaPointe determined that Tegegne fit the description of the suspect from a December 24, 2018 bank robbery that occurred in close proximity to the BB&T bank. Officer LaPointe was the first police officer on the scene of the December 24, 2018 robbery and had assisted in the robbery investigation. The suspect in the December 24, 2018 robbery had entered the bank wearing a backpack with a red wire protruding from it, stated he had a bomb, threatened to blow up the up the bank if he was not given money, received $10,000 from a bank employee, exited the bank walking towards the Silver Spring Metro station and evaded capture.
 
As Officer LaPointe verbally engaged with Tegegne outside of the BB&T bank, a second Montgomery County Police Officer, also on foot, observed their interaction. Tegegne did not comply with Officer LaPointe’s commands and continued walking south on Dixon Avenue. Tegegne, with Officer LaPointe following behind him, reached the entrance to the Bonifant & Dixon parking garage. Tegegne turned towards the trailing officers and stated that his backpack had an explosive device and that he would detonate the explosive device if the officers came near him.
 
Officer LaPointe and a second Officer followed Tegegne as he entered the parking garage. Officer LaPointe, who was roughly 20-32 feet behind Tegegne in the parking garage, continued ordering Tegegne to stop. Tegegne continued threatening to detonate the explosive device in his backpack and warned that if he detonated the explosive device, him and those around him would die.
 
The verbal exchange between Tegegne and Officer LaPointe continued as they walked the  entire length of the ground floor level of the parking garage. At times, Tegegne would turn and face Officer LaPointe but never stopped walking away from Officer LaPointe. The second Officer was following behind Officer LaPointe and observed their verbal interaction.
 
When Tegegne reached the end of the ground level of the garage, he exited the garage through a door which led to a vestibule. Tegegne, who was now running, proceeded through the vestibule and then through a second door that exited the garage into an alley. Five seconds after Tegegne breached the first doorway of the garage, Officer LaPointe, now running, went through the first doorway and entered the vestibule. Approximately one second later, Officer LaPointe, observing that Tegegne has gone through the second doorway, followed by going through the second doorway.
 
By the time Officer LaPointe cleared the second doorway, Tegegne had run down a set of steps immediately outside the second doorway and run a short distance through the alley to a second set of steps adjacent to the Buena Vida Mexican Restaurant. As Tegegne, still running, proceeded down the second set of steps, Officer LaPointe’s view of Tegegne became fully obstructed by the Buena Vida Mexican Restaurant building. Officer LaPointe’s view of Tegegne was obstructed for approximately three seconds. During this time, Tegegne cleared the second set of steps, discarded his backpack and ran towards a third set of steps adjacent to Buena Vida Mexican Restaurant. The third set of steps emptied onto the sidewalk of Ramsey Avenue directly across the street from the entrance to the Silver Spring Metro station.
 
When Officer LaPointe reached the top of the second set of steps, he had an unobstructed view of Tegegne.  Officer LaPointe raised his service weapon and took aim at Tegegne who was at the top of the third set of steps. Officer LaPointe fired his service weapon as Tegegne was running down the third set of steps. Approximately one second later, Officer LaPointe fired his service weapon a second and third time. Tegegne was struck in the head by a bullet from Officer LaPointe’s service weapon somewhere between clearing the last step of the stairs and the sidewalk on Ramsey Avenue. Tegegne’s momentum carried him just past the sidewalk and he collapsed onto the street of Ramsey Avenue. Officer LaPointe fired two more shots as Tegegne was falling to the ground.
 
Officer LaPointe fired his service weapon a total of five times. Tegegne was struck by two bullets—one in the back of the head and one in the left side of the back. Immediately after firing his service weapon, Officer LaPointe shouted to responding police officers to stay away from Tegegne because Tegegne had said he had a bomb. Officer LaPointe also warned responding officers to keep a distance from Tegegne’s backpack which was lying nearby. A short time after the shooting, Officer LaPointe’s body warn camera footage captured a conversation he had with another police officer. Officer LaPointe stated “I couldn’t let him get on the Metro with the thing.”
 
Eventually, police officers, aided by a protective shield, approached Tegegne to place him in custody and render first aid. A loaded 9 MM Ruger handgun was recovered from Tegegne’s waistband. Tegegne was placed into an ambulance and transported to Holy Cross Hospital where he was pronounced deceased at 11:21 AM.
 
The Montgomery County Fire and Explosive Investigations Unit was dispatched to the scene to investigate Tegegne’s backpack.  Using a robot, the Montgomery County Fire and Explosive Investigations Unit was able to examine the contents of Tegegne’s backpack.  Upon its approach to Tegegne’s backpack, the robot captured photographs showing a red wire protruding from the backpack. The robot was then able to open the backpack. Inside Tegegne’s backpack was a red extension cord, a roll of Reynolds Aluminum Foil, a yellow safety vest, cell phone chargers, open pack of cigarettes, and various toiletries (bar soap, body lotion, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and hand sanitizer). No explosive device was located in the backpack.
 
Conclusion
Based upon a thorough review of all materials known at this time, it is the opinion of the Howard County prosecutors that Officer LaPointe’s actions on January 16, 2019 were justified and reasonable based on the defense of self and the defense of others. Consequently, no further investigation was deemed necessary and criminal charges against Officer LaPointe were not warranted.

 

 

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