Ryan LeRoux, 21, was fatally shot by county police on July 16, 2021. His family has sued the county and police department for wrongful death and gross negligence. Credit: Submitted Photo

The family of Ryan LeRoux — a 21-year-old Black man shot to death last year by police outside a McDonald’s in Gaithersburg — has filed a federal wrongful death and negligence lawsuit against Montgomery County and the four police officers who shot him.

Earlier this month, the Howard County State’s Attorney’s office — which has a reciprocal agreement with Montgomery County to investigate each other’s cases — announced that a grand jury declined to charge the police officers, who responded when LeRoux parked his vehicle in the fast-food drive-through lane and wouldn’t move.

A report released by Howard County prosecutors says “LeRoux sat up in the driver’s seat of his vehicle and then allegedly pointed a gun at multiple officers on the scene.”

A majority of jurors determined that the shooting was “legally justified under the circumstances,” the state’s attorney’s office reported.

In a brief interview on Monday, Paul LeRoux, Ryan’s father, said he “was disappointed in the outcome” of the grand jury review, but called it “predictable.” He deferred other questions about the case to Kobie Flowers, an attorney for Brown Goldstein and Levy, a Baltimore law firm representing the LeRoux family in its lawsuit.

The law firm planned to hold a press conference in Baltimore about the case at 6 p.m. Tuesday. 

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The family filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Friday. The county and each individual officer are listed as defendants.

The lawsuit asks for compensatory and punitive damages, but does not give specific amounts.

In the complaint, LeRoux’s family said Ryan should still be alive. 

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The lawsuit says that police at the scene did not do enough to address LeRoux’s mental illnesses and that the county’s police department has “a Pattern and Practice of Using Deadly Force in Encounters with People with Mental Health Disabilities and in Mental Health Crises.”

County police also failed to train their officers to handle people with mental health conditions, the complaint states. The officers’ gross negligence led to Ryan’s death, which caused his parents “sustained mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, loss of companionship, and loss of comfort.”

Scott Peterson, a spokesman for County Executive Marc Elrich, said the county has been served with the lawsuit, but has no comment because it is pending litigation.

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Shiera Goff, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County police, acknowledged a request for comment from Bethesda Beat and wrote in a text message that she would respond later.

Along with Elrich, the following four officers who shot LeRoux were named in the complaint:

  • Brooks Inman, 13 years of experience
  • Sara Vaughan, 3 years of experience
  • John Cerny, 19.5 years of experience
  • Romand Schmuck, 23 years of experience

They shot LeRoux, who lived in Gaithersburg, after a standoff of more than 90 minutes in a McDonald’s drive-thru lane on Flower Hill Way on July 16, 2021. County police were called to the scene around 9:15 p.m. after they received a call that LeRoux had refused to pay for food and had parked in the lane.

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Because of call volume, police did not arrive at the scene until almost 10:30 p.m., according to a report from the Howard County State’s Attorney’s office. 

Inman was the first one to arrive at the scene. When he got there, he walked up to LeRoux’s car, knocked on the window and shined his flashlight in. 

According to the report, LeRoux was reclined in the driver’s seat wearing headphones and with his hands on his cellphone. Inman drew his gun, pointed it at LeRoux and told him to put his hands up.

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Inman then backed away about 15 to 20 feet from the vehicle, and more officers arrived. The four officers arrived at the scene at around 10:36 p.m.

Officers at the scene said that LeRoux allegedly picked up a handgun that was in the passenger seat when Inman approached the car.

A crisis negotiator was on the way as of 10:53 p.m., and police were talking to LeRoux, the report stated. At 11:02 p.m., the crisis negotiator told police via radio that they were two minutes away.

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Seconds after that, LeRoux could be seen sitting up suddenly as his seat became upright. He had headphones on and was leaning toward the passenger seat.

Vaughan and Cerny’s body camera footage “appears to possibly show LeRoux point something at the officers,” the report states. Multiple gunshots are then heard.

Crime lab technicians recovered 23 shell casings from the scene, all traced back to the four officers’ guns. Police recovered a semiautomatic handgun from LeRoux’s car, loaded with five rounds. None was in the chamber. 

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Police also recovered from the car:

  • An empty magazine on the front passenger seat
  • Two shell casings that were the same brand as the bullets found in LeRoux’s gun
  • A “large tactical knife” on the driver’s side
  • Liquor
  • An empty prescription bottle for Risperidone, an anti-psychotic drug.

Howard County Deputy State’s Attorney Chris Sandmann presented testimony and evidence to a Montgomery County grand jury, beginning March 17, according to the report. Jurors reviewed body camera footage, police statements and other evidence. 

After a couple of weeks of reviewing evidence and questioning police and prosecutors, a majority of the grand jury found that a majority of jurors determined that the shooting was “legally justified under the circumstances.”

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There were four other fatal police shootings in 2021. They are:

  • The shooting of 24-year-old Kwamena Ocran following a confrontation with four plainclothes Gaithersburg officers in January. Similarly, in that case, a Montgomery County grand jury declined to charge the officers.
  • The shooting of a man in Laytonsville by a county sheriff’s deputy in February after he attacked the deputy with a large tree branch. The deputy was later cleared of wrongdoing by the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office.
  • An off-duty Pentagon officer was charged with murder after allegedly shooting and killing two men in Takoma Park in April. A trial in that case is currently scheduled for September.
  • Four Montgomery County police officers shot and killed Osman Sesay, 27, on Dec. 29 in Silver Spring during a traffic stop. That shooting is under investigation by the Independent Investigations Division of the Attorney General’s Office.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdda-remix.newspackstaging.com