Tensions simmer after Annapolis police shooting Black teen's death divides community

September 08, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The shooting death of a young black man last week by a white Annapolis police officer is placing new strains on the relationship between a community that has long felt oppressed and a police department that has struggled to overcome its racist past.

It started with a robbery and beating of a 40-year-old black man in the Robinwood community that night and ended when his two assailants were shot by Officer David W. Garcia, one fatally.

The incident sparked an angry neighborhood protest against police brutality and racism led by youthful community leaders.

But as tension grew throughout the week, longtime civil rights activists -- the people who forced the Annapolis Police Department to face its problems a decade ago -- have remained silent, choosing instead to wait for a thorough investigation.

Standing fast in defense of the Annapolis police was Chief Joseph S. Johnson, a city native who two years ago took over a department with a reputation of racism and hired minority officers to make it more representative of the city, where a third of the population is black. No one had questioned his success until now.

"I'm as black as anybody else and if I ever caught an officer pulling that racist crap, I would not stand for it," a frustrated Johnson said. "I am sick and tired of people fanning the fires of racism. We have struggled to come out from under that image and we have worked hard to protect our community. We will not tolerate such accusations."

But in the Robinwood public housing complex, many residents say that the shooting was not justified and that the incident and the department's reaction was somehow typical.

"We have always been mistreated by law enforcement in this town," said Robert Eades, a former drug dealer who once lived in Robinwood and helped organize Tuesday's protest. "They have always come into black neighborhoods and stereotyped everyone as criminals.

There are many versions of what took place at 12: 14 a.m. Monday after Garcia and Officer Joseph M. Ridley responded to a complaint of gunshots being fired in the 1300 block of Tyler Ave. in Robinwood. According to police, the officers found nothing amiss so Ridley left to handle another call while Garcia stayed behind.

Garcia saw two men chase a third man -- identified as Carlester Jackson, 40, of the 1400 block of Tyler Ave. -- and beat and slash him with a broken, quart-sized beer bottle, according to police.

Garcia ordered the men to stop, then fired four shots when both refused and one man suddenly reached behind his back, according to police sources close to the investigation. One bullet struck Cochise Ornandez Daughtry, 18, in the chest, fatally wounding him. Another bullet struck his buttocks. A third bullet wounded Vernon Eugene Estep Jr., 19, in the groin, police said.

The men did not attack Garcia, said police, who believe the fight started over an unpaid drug debt. Jackson, still recovering from internal injuries this week at Anne Arundel Medical Center, confirmed that he was beaten and said, "I think if that officer wasn't there, I wouldn't be here right now."

Many older community activists say the issue is much bigger than Garcia and the shooting.

"This is not about race," said Bertina Nick, who lived in Robinwood for eight years. "I am not saying racism does not exist. But I am not taking sides and I am not condemning anyone until the investigation is completed.

"The bigger issue here is drugs and how it is plaguing our community and killing our families," said Nick. Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a longtime civil rights activist who led the fight to reform the the city police in the 1980s, also is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"I don't know if the shooting is a way to measure police-community relations," said Snowden.

"I feel very strongly that both the police and the community has to lower the rhetoric and move back from confrontation to cooperation."

The department gets a small number of complaints per year. City Attorney Paul G. Goetzke says about one lawsuit alleging racism is filed against city police each year and not one has ever $H resulted in favor of the plaintiffs.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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