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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Man Slain by Officer Wasn't Resisting, Son Says

(Posted 27 Aug 2008)

Man Slain by Officer Wasn't Resisting, Son Says; Witnesses Challenge Police Account of Shooting in Langley Park.
Post, 27 Aug 2008 (Castaneda).
Manuel de Jesus Espina Jacome said he watched in horror two weeks ago as a Prince George's County police officer beat his unarmed, unresisting father with a baton. Espina Jacome, speaking through an attorney, said his father was bloodied and struggling to stand by the time the officer shot him once in their friends' apartment in Langley Park, fatally wounding him.

Espina Jacome said that before the shooting, he dropped to his knees on the wood parquet floor, clasped his hands and pleaded with the officer to stop beating his father.

Espina Jacome's account of the Aug. 16 incident contradicts the police version of events. Police have charged Espina Jacome, 26, with second-degree assault and resisting arrest, alleging that, at one point, father and son set on the officer and that he fired in self-defense. Police have said the trouble began when the officer, Steven Jackson, attempted to confront Espina over an alcohol violation.

The shooting, the most recent police-involved killing in the county this year, has prompted community members to demand an independent investigation.

The police account has varied in the days since the shooting. On the day of the shooting, police said Jackson fired after Manuel de Jesus Espina, 43, reached for the officer's gun. Also that day, a police commander said Jackson alleged that the two Espinas tried to pull him into the apartment. The next day, police issued a news release saying that Jackson feared for his life when Espina tried to grab his baton.

The charging document filed against Espina Jacome by Detective Eric Freeman provides another version. It alleges that inside the apartment, Espina was "violently struggling" and that Jackson was trying to arrest him. It says Jackson had managed to get one handcuff on Espina when Espina Jacome pushed the officer from behind, knocking him into a couch.

Espina and his son then grabbed Jackson's baton and took it from him, the charging document says.

Through his attorney, Thomas C. Mooney, Espina Jacome denied that he ever pushed or hit Jackson or tried to grab his baton. He said he saw through a glass door that his father was being beaten in the stairwell. He said that to rush to his father's aid, he entered the basement-level apartment by removing a screen from a kitchen window.

Espina Jacome was not injured.

In addition to Espina Jacome, two residents of the apartment have disputed aspects of the police account of the shooting.

"He was weak. He was swaying," resident Carlos Cruz, 33, said of Espina. "The officer reached out and shot him."

Elvia Rivera, 23, whose mother is married to Cruz, said she saw Espina Jacome pull his father away from the officer. Rivera said she hustled her mother into a bedroom and returned to see Jackson shoot an unresisting Espina. (The Washington Post erroneously reported last week that Rivera said Espina Jacome arrived after the shooting).

Sharon Taylor, a police spokeswoman, declined to comment on the allegation that Jackson shot an unarmed, unresisting man. She said that police were "in the early stages of an exhaustive criminal investigation" and that the incident would also be reviewed by State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey.

A woman who answered the phone at Jackson's home hung up yesterday when a reporter called.

Jackson, a four-year member of the police force, was in his dark blue police uniform, moonlighting as a security guard for the apartment complex.

Police can issue citations for drinking in public, but they cannot arrest someone for that offense, said Mooney and two defense lawyers not associated with the case. A witness told a defense investigator that the incident began when Jackson saw Espina with a beer in or near the front of the building and chased him up the stairwell, Mooney said.

Another resident of the building, Macaria Sanchez, 42, said in an interview that from her apartment on the third floor she heard a man ask in English, "What happened? What happened?" and then thumping sounds.

Sanchez, who said she speaks only Spanish, said that after the shooting, police initially questioned her in English. Spanish-speaking officers have since recanvassed the neighborhood.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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