This story was updated at 5 p.m. on June 24, 2022, to include additional details
Four officers involved in the fatal shooting of a man in downtown Silver Spring during a traffic stop last year will not face charges, according to authorities.
The officers fatally shot Osman Sesay, 27, of Silver Spring during a traffic stop near the intersection of Wayne and Dartmouth avenues in the early morning hours of Dec. 29, according to authorities.
At the time of the incident, authorities said an off-duty Montgomery County police officer responded to a shooting in the 900 block of Bonifant Street around 4:25 a.m. Police said the off-duty officer found a man who had been shot and injured. The man was taken to a local hospital. The off-duty officer saw the shooting suspect’s car when he arrived at the scene.
The off-duty officer gave a description of the shooting suspect’s car to on-duty officers and those officers saw a car that matched the description in the area of Wayne and Dartmouth avenues about half a mile away and stopped the car, according to a report released Thursday by the Maryland Attorney General’s Independent Investigations Division.
Officer Nathan Lenhart conducted a traffic stop as backup also responded. Sesay got out of the rear passenger side of the car against officers’ orders, according to the report. The report said Sesay pointed a handgun at officers, and four officers fired at him. Sesay was struck by the gunfire and died at the scene, according to the report.
The four officers who fired shots were:
- Lenhart, 30, who has been with the department since 2013
- Karli Dorsey, 23, who has been with the department since 2020
- Dennis Tejada, 37, who has been with the department since 2006
- Eric Kessler, 36, who has been with the department since 2014.
The officers were placed on administrative leave following the shooting, which is standard practice while a shooting by police officers is investigated. On Thursday, police spokeswoman Shiera Goff told Bethesda Beat that the officers must first complete internal processes before returning to duty.
The AG’s Independent Investigations Division, created in 2021, investigated the shooting. However, the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office made the decision not to charge any of the officers, pursuant to an agreement between the state’s attorney offices of Montgomeryand Howard counties , according to the report. Under the agreement, one county prosecutes a use-of-force incident by a law enforcement officer in the other county.
“….Based upon a thorough review of the report it is the opinion of the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office that the actions of the shooting officers on December 29, 2021, were reasonable under the circumstances,” the report states.
Sesay’s death is one of five fatal shootings by law enforcement in Montgomery County that occurred in 2021. In four of the five cases, officers were not charged. However, an off-duty Pentagon police officer was charged with murder after authorities say he shot and killed two men in Takoma Park in April 2021. The Pentagon officer is scheduled to go on trial later this year.
Altercation at restaurant preceded shooting
Just after 4 a.m. on Dec. 29, Sesay went to the restaurant Sweet Sweet Kitchen at 904 Bonifant St. with two friends, one male and one female, after coming from an earlier party, according to the report. A fourth person then entered the restaurant and went behind the restaurant counter, according to the report. The names of Sesay’s two friends as well as the fourth individual are redacted from the report.
After Sesay began arguing with the fourth person, the fourth person was removed by restaurant security, according to the report. Sesay then left the restaurant with his two friends.
The off-duty officer told authorities that he had gone to the restaurant to eat. When he saw a large commotion, he put on his police vest and told people to back away, according to the report. He then called for backup as the altercation continued.
The off-duty officer told authorities that he heard one gunshot from the side of an SUV parked nearby, according to the report. He then saw a man come from behind the SUV “holding his left side,” who turned out to be the shooting victim who was injured.
The off-duty officer learned from witnesses that the shooter was in a white Mercedes, and when he saw the Mercedes he gave a description of it over the radio to responding units.
The traffic stop
Lenhart stopped the Mercedes about a half mile from Sweet Sweet Kitchen around 4:29 a.m. Lenhart told the driver of the Mercedes to roll down his window; it is unknown whether he did, according to the report. Kessler and more backup officers later arrived at the scene.
Lenhart then again instructed the driver to roll down the window, turn off the engine and put his hands out of the window, according to the report. Patrol car camera footage shows the male driver and the front seat passenger, a female, putting their hands outside the car windows.
After the driver and front seat passenger put their hands out the windows, Sesay, who was sitting in the back of the Mercedes, got out, according to the report. He can be seen in camera footage aiming a gun toward officers.
For “several seconds” Lenhart, Dorsey, Kessler and Tejada fired their service weapons at Sesay, the report states. Lenhart fired two shots that hit Sesay, according to authorities.
Two other county police officers also were present, but did not fire shots, the report states.
After the four officers stopped shooting, officers began to help the driver and front seat passenger out of the car and called for the Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service to respond, according to the report. The driver and front seat passenger, who were uninjured, were taken into custody for questioning.
Lenhart and Kessler then approached Sesay, whose body was lying facedown in front of the Mercedes. When they tried to handcuff him, they noticed he was unresponsive and without a pulse, the report states.
Question remains over whether Sesay fired at officers
It remains unclear whether Sesay fired shots at the officers, the report states. County police recovered a cartridge casing from the shooting that injured the man at Sweet Sweet Kitchen and it was determined to have been that of a bullet fired by Sesay’s gun. But no casings or bullets from Sesay’s gun were found at the scene of the traffic stop where the officers shot Sesay, according to authorities.
“Because none of the recovered shell casings or bullets were fired from the gun linked to Mr. Sesay, as well as the jammed condition of the gun when it was recovered, it is unlikely Mr. Sesay fired his gun at officers,” the report states. “It remains theoretically possible, however, that Mr. Sesay did fire one or more rounds at officers and his gun jammed after that firing and the associated casings were not located on scene.”
The report contradicts an account given by Police Chief Marcus Jones immediately following the shooting, who said Sesay fired at the officers before they shot him.
The explanation for no charges
The AG’s office report states that “based on the available evidence” it would be difficult to show that the four officers who fired shots “did not act in self-defense or pursuant to law-enforcement justification.”
“The available evidence shows that Mr. Sesay refused to comply with officer instructions during the traffic stop by exiting the car, and that he raised and aimed a firearm directly at officers,” the report states.
“Even if Mr. Sesay did not actually fire his firearm … the very act of pointing the gun at officers threatened them with serious bodily harm. Mr. Sesay was the initial aggressor, and officers had no lesser level of force available that would have been appropriate,” the report said.
The report states that murder, manslaughter, negligence and misconduct charges are not warranted, noting that officers first had to remove the driver and front seat passenger of the Mercedes and secure the scene before approaching Sesay, who appears to have already been dead, according to the evidence.
Michael Ashley, an attorney who represents Sesay’s family, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org