Jury acquits officer in Maryland county's first police murder charge in shooting handcuffed man

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. (AP) — A Maryland police officer was acquitted by a jury of murder and other charges Wednesday from the fatal shooting a handcuffed man.

The jury acquitted Michael Owen Jr. of all four charges, including second-degree murder, first-degree assault, voluntary manslaughter and misconduct in office. It took the jury less than two hours of deliberations to deliver the not guilty verdict.

Owen had served on the police force for 10 years when he became the first officer in the county’s history to be charged with murder in an on-duty killing.

Owen fatally shot William Green, 43, while the handcuffed man was sitting in the front seat of the officer’s police cruiser in 2020. Owen's attorneys claimed at trial that he acted in self defense during a struggle in which Green tried to grab his gun. After the gun went off, he shot Green six times.

In opening statements, prosecutors and the defense agreed on certain basic facts: that Owen fatally shot Green while the handcuffed man was sitting in the front seat of the officer’s police cruiser. But the two sides disputed other aspects of the case, including whether a struggle preceded the shooting and whether Owen acted in self-defense.

Several months after Green’s death, in September 2020, county officials announced a $20 million settlement with his family.

The fatal shooting happened in Prince George’s County, where there are nearly 1 million residents and the 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.

Owen had handcuffed Green behind his back after responding to a traffic accident and finding him sleeping in his vehicle, apparently under the influence of an unknown substance, according to a police report. Owen then put Green in the front passenger seat of the patrol car.

Owen wasn’t wearing a body camera during the deadly encounter.

His lead defense attorney, Thomas Mooney, argued the shooting was self-defense. He said the jury would see evidence of damage to the inside of Owen’s vehicle and hear from another officer who recalled Owen telling him Green went for his gun.

Mooney also raised questions about weaknesses and inconsistencies in the initial police investigation of the shooting, asking how Owen could be charged with murder if key pieces of evidence were in conflict.