Witnesses bypassing police on shooting Four testify instead before grand jury on Robinwood incident

September 22, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

In the three weeks since the Labor Day shooting death of a young black man by a white Annapolis police officer, surprise witnesses have shown up to testify before the county grand jury -- bypassing a police investigation of the incident.

Last week, four witnesses gave the grand jury their versions of the Sept. 2 shooting that stopped the beating and robbery of a 40-year-old man in the Robinwood community.

Tomorrow, four more witnesses are expected to testify -- supporting a belief by some community residents that Officer David W. Garcia reacted violently with no justification.

Meanwhile, frustrated police investigators, accused of being incapable of conducting a fair inquiry, have yet to talk to any of the witnesses -- whose identities have not been released.

Lt. Stan M. Malm, commander of the criminal investigation section, said that police "know who the witnesses are," that four of them have been before the grand jury and that more are expected to testify. But police have not talked to them, he said.

"We have advertised in the newspapers and have gone door-to-door to find witnesses, any at all, to get them to come forward, but none have yet," he said. "It would be nice to talk to all these witnesses."

Robinwood residents and others say there are many versions of what took place the night of the shooting, but the police version is the only one that has been discussed publicly.

Police say the altercation began over a drug debt. About 12: 14 a.m. Sept. 2, Garcia and Officer Joseph M. Ridley responded to a report 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.

Garcia then 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, but they refused, police said. One reached suddenly behind his back, and Garcia fired four shots, 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, police said. Detectives at the scene recovered 1 gram of crack cocaine, police sources said.

Garcia has been placed on administrative leave while the investigation continues.

Jackson, who was hospitalized for at least a week, confirmed that he had been beaten and said, "I think if that officer wasn't there, I wouldn't be here right now."

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

Activists who led the protest against the Police Department say their witnesses will prove that the police version is not accurate.

"We don't trust the police," said Curtis A. Spencer, founder of the Friends of Black Annapolitans, who has been highly critical of the department.

"That's why the witnesses are going before the grand jury and not to the police," he said.

Spencer, who said at least 200 people showed up for a candlelight vigil for Daughtry in the community Thursday, said residents "want charges brought up against Garcia."

"We're just waiting for a verdict from the grand jury now," he

said.

The grand jury is used in some cases for witnesses who are reluctant to talk to the police. While several law enforcement sources confirmed that the witnesses had testified, the state's attorney's office would not discuss the investigation.

"The state's attorney's office is prohibited from discussing any details of the grand jury proceedings," said spokeswoman Kristin A. Riggin.

"There is an ongoing police investigation, and we're still waiting for reports from the Police Department," Riggin said.

Police officials say they cannot complete their investigation until witnesses are interviewed and Daughtry's autopsy has been completed with results from toxicology reports.

That could take a minimum of three to six weeks, Malm said.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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