Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jury awards $11.5 million to family of man shot by cop

March 16, 2011 Washington Post

A jury in Prince George’s County awarded $11.5 million to the widow and child of a man who was fatally shot by a police officer and found that the officer wrongfully caused the man’s death.

The jury also found that Cpl. Steven Jackson violated the consitutional rights of Manuel de Jesus Espina during an encounter in a Langley Park apartment building in August 2008. Jackson acted with malice and not in self defense, the jury found. The $11.5 million award is for compensatory damages. The jury is still deliberating about whether Espina’s family is entitled to punitive damages.

The verdict capped a month-long trial that featured dramatic testimony from eyewitnesses to the encounter, which lasted only a few minutes but produced a wealth of evidence.

Witnesses for the plaintiffs and Jackson provided starkly different accounts of the incident.

Jackson was moonlighting as a security officer when he saw about a half-dozen men hanging out in front of the three-story building where he worked. Some of the men, including Espina, were drinking beer.

During the civil trial and in a sworn deposition, Jackson testified that none of the men was suspected of any crime, none had violated any laws against loitering, and none had committed an alcohol violation. None of the men was behaving in a disorderly fashion, Jackson testified.

Jackson said he approached the men because he was concerned they might be blocking the entrance and to see if any of them was doing anything wrong. Most of the men went inside the building, and Jackson followed them inside.

Four witnesses testified that Jackson pepper-sprayed an unresisting Espina, and beat him down the stairs with his fists and metal police baton. Eventually, the two men went into a basement apartment, where Jackson fired a single, fatal bullet into Espina’s torso.

Two of those witnesses testified that Espina was not trying to escape or resisting when Jackson shot him. One of them, Manuel de Jesus Espina, Espina’s son, testified that his father was struggling to his feet, his eyes shut and filled with blood, when Jackson shot him.

Jackson testified that he was searching Espina for weapons on the second-floor landing when Espina took a swing at him. Jackson said he managed to handcuff Espina’s left hand, but Espina continued to violently resist.

Inside the basement apartment, Jackson testified, Espina and his son were trying to get his police baton when suddenly, a “mob” of four or five more men appeared and menaced him.

Jackson said the men pushed toward him and ignored his pleas to back away. Jackson said he took out his gun to try to prevent anyone from taking it. He said Espina reached for the gun, so he shot him.

In his testimony during the trial and in the deposition, which was videotaped last May and played for the jury, Jackson was unable to explain where the additional men came from or how they left the apartment.

Jackson said the men did not come in through the apartment’s lone door, and they did not get out that way. Police arrived quickly and never searched for any members of the mob. Jackson testified that he never told police investigators about the mob because no one specifically asked him.

Attorneys for the Espina family played an audio recording of a 911 call made by Elvia Rivera, who lived in the apartment where the shooting occurred.

Moments after the shooting, as Espina’s wife, Estela, is wailing in Spanish and asking why her husband was shot, an angry male voice is heard on the auditotape screaming, “Shut the [bleep] up! [Bleep] you!”

Jackson initially testified that he did not believe the voice was his, but later testified that he might have “cussed.”

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