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Monday, September 22, 2008

County woman continues to speak out about son's death

(Posted 22 Sep 2008)

County woman continues to speak out about son's death; Mother says recent incidents indicate police brutality remains an issue in Prince George's.
Gazette, 18 Sep 2008 (McGill).
Coming off the heels of two highly publicized deaths involving county law enforcement, the mother of a Forestville man who was shot and killed more than 15 years ago by police continues to spread the word about her own son's death.

Dorothy Copp Elliott sent out more than 200 e-mails and phone calls over several weeks asking friends, family and anyone with interest to view "Conception of Mother's Judicial Pregnancy" Sept. 14. Five people, including Elliott, watched the documentary by Next Level Filmworks producer Carlton Williams that covered protests surrounding reopening her son Archie Elliott III's case. Williams also plans to produce a movie using the documentary footage.

Known as "Artie," Archie Elliott III, 24, was shot and killed June 18, 1993 in District Heights by county police officer Wayne Cheney and District Heights police officer Jason Leavitt. Both claimed Archie Elliott pointed a gun at them as he was handcuffed behind his back in the front passenger seat of a police cruiser, causing them to act in self defense.

Pulled over at the intersection of Kipling Parkway and Marbury Drive for driving under the influence of alcohol, Archie Elliott was struck by 14 bullets fired from a total of 22 rounds. Both Cheney and Leavitt were cleared of all charges.

Twenty months after Archie Elliott's death, Cheney shot and killed 29-year-old Michael D. Reed in Upper Marlboro on Feb. 18, 1995. Cheney was also cleared of those charges.

Originally from Cheverly, Williams first learned of Reed's death on the Internet in 1999 and decided to film four to five consecutive weeks of the protests in April of that year outside of the county courthouse.

Williams was disappointed in the low turnout to the documentary viewing.

"That's really sad to me because Prince George's County, when it comes to issues like that, the people don't show up," Williams said. "If her son would've got shot in New York, in Harlem somewhere or in New York City, you would've seen 30 to 50,000 people come out and protest. We don't have those types of crowds here."

Some highly publicized incidents in the county recently caught Dorothy Copp Elliott's attention, reminding her of her son's death. She attended the Aug. 20 vigil for 40-year-old Langley Park resident Manuel de Jesus Espina, who was shot and killed Aug. 16 by Prince George's County police officer Steven Jackson. Jackson, who was off-duty at the time of the shooting, failed to restrain Espina and used a baton and pepper spray to arrest him for an alcohol violation.

Dorothy Copp Elliott said she has also talked with the attorney for the family of 19-year-old Ronnie L. White. White was found dead June 29 from strangulation in a county jail cell after his arrest for the June 27 murder of Cpl. Robert Findley of Laurel. She said White's mother eventually wants to tell her son's story to the public but she is not quite emotionally ready. Because of these events, Elliott wants residents to know police brutality is still a major issue in the county.

"I don't think we can sit back and say not too much is happening," Elliott said.

The documentary showed footage of Dorothy Copp Elliott, along with WOL-AM disc jockey Joe Madison and comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, speaking outside of the county courthouse in Upper Marlboro where Copp Elliott stood for 22 consecutive Wednesdays urging County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), who was then the county state's attorney, to reopen the case. Johnson never did.

Calling for more oversight in light of recent officer-involved shootings, local leaders such as county NAACP President June White Dillard want a memorandum of agreement signed between the county police and the U.S. Department of Justice in 2004 to be extended. The agreement was intended to reduce the number of incidents in which officers used excessive force through installing video cameras on police vehicles and reforming police training. The agreement will continue through Jan. 2009.

Dorothy Copp Elliott said she felt she let her son down when she was unable to get the case reopened. She said she wanted to give him a voice because he would never be able to say what happened.

"Artie's death did not depend on those officers living because Artie never meant to do any harm," Dorothy Copp Elliott said.

Seeing the documentary for the first time, Chaunya Blackwell of Laurel said the incident was a "prime example" of people with no compassion for human life.

"It's just unfortunate that something like that could happen and everyone wants to just turn a blind eye to someone's life," Blackwell said.

Dorothy Copp Elliott said friends who could not attend the documentary viewing Sept. 14 planned to donate money toward the creation of the movie. Williams said a movie will cost between $50,000 and $100,000 to make. He is looking to revise the script this winter and begin filming in spring 2009.

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