Police Shootings Cause Alarm; Langley Park Incident Draws Attention to Surge in Pr. George's Deaths.
Post, 28 Aug 2008 (Davis).
Prince George's County police have shot and killed more than twice as many people this year as in all of last year and more than in any year since before 2004, when allegations of excessive force led federal authorities to begin monitoring the department.Shootings by Pr. George's Police in '08.
County police have killed seven people this year, up from three in 2007. There have been two fatal shootings this year by police in the District.
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In the most recent fatal police shooting in Prince George's, Manuel de Jesus Espina was killed Aug. 16 in Langley Park by an off-duty county officer moonlighting as a security guard, and the circumstances heightened concerns about officers' use of deadly force.
Espina, who was unarmed, was fatally shot during what police say was an attempt to arrest him after he was spotted with an open container of alcohol. Hundreds turned out last week for a vigil during which civil rights leaders demanded an independent investigation into the shooting.
"We are having too many incidents like this one," said June White Dillard, president of the county's chapter of the NAACP, drawing applause as she locked arms with Latino leaders at the vigil. Residents, she said, "are very familiar, too familiar, with police brutality and excessive force."
Mark Spencer, inspector general for Prince George's police, cautioned against drawing conclusions about the increase in fatal police shootings this year, saying officers are encountering increasingly dangerous situations.
"More people are armed, carrying around firearms, and more willing to shoot at police officers," he said.
The shootings have become a flashpoint in a county already rattled by incidents that cast law enforcement in an unfavorable light: In June, a 19-year-old inmate suspected of killing a county police officer was allegedly strangled in the county jail. And late last month, sheriff's deputies and police narcotics officers raided the home of the mayor of Berwyn Heights as part of a drug investigation. The mayor, whose two dogs were killed during the raid, has been cleared of suspicion.
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Police shootings and aggressive tactics have long been a source of tension in the county. The department's canine unit, which was responsible for 800 biting incidents in a seven-year period ending in the mid-1990s, was released last year from federal oversight.
Submitting to federal oversight in 2004 on the broader issue of excessive force allowed the county to avoid legal action by the Justice Department after 15 shootings, five of them fatal, occurred in as many months. At the time, FBI agents were also investigating four incidents in which suspects died after being injured in struggles with county police.
With more than four months remaining in 2008, county officers, on and off duty, have drawn their weapons and fired at suspects 14 times, or almost every other week. The last three shootings, all since late July, have been fatal.
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Not included in those numbers is a domestic incident in January in which a county police officer critically wounded her fiance and then fatally shot herself in her Charles County home with her service weapon.
From 2004 through 2007, county grand juries reviewed 10 police-involved shootings and returned charges in one case, according to police records. Keith Washington, a former county police corporal, was tried, convicted and sentenced to 45 years in prison for shooting two unarmed furniture deliverymen, one fatally, at his Accokeek home last year.
According to State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D), six of the 14 shootings this year are under review by his office.
Spencer said the department's internal review process for such shootings is more rigorous than at any other time in its history because of improvements made since the county agreed to federal monitoring.
Officers in nine of the shootings this year are on leave or desk duty pending the outcome of Ivey's reviews or department investigations, Spencer said. He said four officers in the remaining five shootings have been cleared and have returned to full duty; the other officer was killed.
Vince Canales, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, said the increasing number of shootings says more about the recklessness of Prince George's criminals than it does about police conduct. "If they will do this to police officers, imagine what regard they have for Joe Public," he said.
Overall, however, the number of deadly shootings this year by county police exceeds what is typical even in Prince George's most violent years. In 2005, Prince George's high-water mark for violence, with 173 homicides, county police shot and killed four suspects, three fewer than this year. This year, county police have investigated about 85 homicides.
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Police say that three of the seven deadly shootings this year followed police pursuits and that five of the seven suspects killed this year were armed. According to police and witnesses, two of the suspects had fired at officers: one was an escaped inmate who carjacked two vehicles before being killed in a cemetery in Suitland, the other a Hyattsville man who shot at an acquaintance and officers during an hours-long standoff.
Samuel J. Summers III, 22, one of the two unarmed suspects, was shot in Upper Marlboro in May after he "implied" that he had a weapon and disobeyed orders to show his hands after a police chase into a wooded area, according to authorities. Officer Kyle Bodenhorn shot Summers. There were no civilian witnesses to the shooting.
Espina, the other unarmed suspect, was drinking in an apartment building stairwell when officer Steven Jackson attempted to arrest him, police said. Police allege that Espina resisted arrest and began to fight the officer. Jackson used pepper spray and his baton, but Espina continued to resist, police said. Espina's son arrived and joined the fray, police said. "The officer, fearing for his life, discharged his issued firearm striking Espina in the torso," police said in a statement.
Espina's son and witnesses have contradicted key points in the police account. The son said he watched as Jackson beat and then shot his defenseless father. Elvia Rivera and her mother, Maria Gamez, who were in the ground-floor apartment where the shooting occurred, have said Jackson appeared to be in control before he fired his gun.
Several senior members of the department, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said they are concerned about a possible trend in this year's shootings and whether it might be related to efforts to boost patrols by putting younger recruits on the streets.
Jackson and Bodenhorn have relatively little experience. Jackson has been on the force for four years, Bodenhorn for 2 1/2 years. Officer Cornelius L. Johnson, who shot a man in March while moonlighting as a security guard, has three years' experience.
Del. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George's), who attended last week's vigil, said the county must take seriously the shooting of Espina and the others.
"Sometimes we have to fess up that in all communities, in all families, there's always one person who slips," Ramirez said. "If those mistakes come out, people have to be held accountable."
Staff writers Ruben Castaneda and James Hohmann and researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report. [Full story]
Post, 28 Aug 2008 (Map).
Prince George's County police kill 7 this year.
Examiner, 28 Aug 2008 (AP, based on Post story).
nbc4.com.com, 28 Aug 2008 (AP, based on Post story).
wjz.com, 28 Aug 2008 (AP, based on Post story).
Killings by OG County Police Double.
dcist, 28 Aug 2008.
Meanwhile, over in Prince George's County, accusations of excessive force are being laid against the police department, after the number of people shot and killed by police doubled from last year. The Post article is a disheartening summary of brutal stories, including the 19-year-old inmate who was strangled in June, and how their canine unite required strict federal oversight up until last year, after over 800 bitings occurred over seven years in the 1990's. Or the death of Manuel de Jesus Espina, "who was unarmed, [and] was fatally shot during what police say was an attempt to arrest him after he was spotted with an open container of alcohol" in August. The police inspector general reminded the public, before painting with too wide a brush, that more people are armed and willing to shoot police.
More information about individual killings,
from Gory Prince George's, including locations and victims names and pictures (if available):