Teen's death is strain on race relations Residents, police at odds after officer shoots black man, 18

Community protest held

Department accused of brutality

chief denies racial charges

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.

The incident started with the robbery and beating of a 40-year-old black man in the Robinwood community early Monday and ended when his two black assailants were shot by Officer David W. Garcia. One young man was killed and the other seriously wounded.

The shooting sparked an angry neighborhood protest against police brutality and racism led by youthful community leaders, one of whom is an admitted former drug dealer.

But as tension grew throughout the week, longtime civil rights activists -- the people who forced the Police Department to face its problems a decade ago -- 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 for 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 Garcia fired his gun.

"I'm as black as anybody else, and if I ever caught an officer pulling that racist , 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."

Yet Johnson's words ring hollow with some residents of Robinwood, a public housing complex where many residents say they believe the shooting was not justified, and in fact, say Garcia's reaction is typical of the entire department.

"We have always been mistreated by law enforcement in this town," said Robert Eades, the 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. They have always harassed people in our communities. We will not put up with it any more."

Details of shooting

Many versions exist of what took place at 12: 14 a.m. Monday after Garcia and Officer Joseph M. Ridley responded to a complaint of gunshots 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 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 that the fight started over a drug debt. At the scene, detectives recovered one gram of crack cocaine believed to have been thrown to the ground by one of the suspects, police sources said.

None of the three men had any drug convictions, court records show. Relatives of both suspects have declined to comment.

Jackson, recovering from internal injuries 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."

In a nine-page statement he made to police Monday, Jackson made similar remarks and told Detective John Wade that he was beaten by Estep and robbed of $87 after he ran into the two young men as he returned home from a nearby liquor store.

Along with the Annapolis police investigation, the Anne Arundel County state's attorney will investigate the case on Garcia, a seven-year veteran described by colleagues as "a good cop."

Garcia, who was placed on administrative leave, was sued three years ago when two women accused him of battery, false arrest and imprisonment after he arrested them at what was then Fran O'Brien's restaurant on Main Street. The case was dismissed voluntarily by the plaintiffs, records show.

Garcia also was the subject of two other complaints. He was cleared of one 1991 brutality charge filed by a family on Silopanna Court, who accused him and three other officers of assaulting a man during an arrest. In July, investigators declared that Garcia acted properly when he arrested a man on robbery charges, but he was sent to two days of retraining.

Issue beyond racism

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.

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