Doubts raised in Arundel shooting Man slain by officer might not have been mugger, documents say

November 11, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

By police accounts that have been made public, the events leading to Cochise O. Daughtry's 1996 death in an Annapolis public housing complex were clear: An officer came upon two men viciously beating someone and shot them. Daughtry, 18, died that night.

But documents The Sun obtained recently, including a statement from a key witness, raise a number of questions, including whether the dead man was participating in a mugging or coming to the victim's aid.

New doubts have been raised about the Labor Day 1996 shooting in Robinwood -- which polarized the city's black and white communities -- by a statement beating victim Carlester Jackson provided to police within hours of the bloodshed.

"I think the officer just showed up at the wrong time," Jackson told police. "Because if he ain't got there like about 15-20 seconds earlier he would have known that Cochise was trying to stop it."

Jackson's statement also suggests that Officer David W. Garcia might not have identified himself as police before he fired his gun.

"These new facts are troubling," said Gerald Stansbury, president of the Anne Arundel County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "I think it warrants further investigation by internal affairs, the justice system and other interest groups. We will also look into it again."

"Cochise was an innocent victim," said Dwayne A. Brown, an attorney handling the Daughtry family's $80 million civil suit against the city and Garcia. A U.S. Justice Department probe into the shooting is pending. "It was a bad shooting. We have maintained that all along. He was breaking up a fight. This kid shouldn't have been shot."

Police officials strongly defend police actions in Robinwood, adding that a four-month internal investigation cleared Garcia and a county grand jury declined to indict Garcia in January 1997.

One fact not in dispute is that the scene of the shooting was Robinwood, a housing complex near the city-Anne Arundel County line, home to 150 families, most of them black, whose average income is about $7,500. Police describe the area as an open-air drug market, and fears about the place are so strong that some pizza companies have refused to deliver there, noting the number of muggings, robberies and shootings.

In such a setting, police officials said, Garcia rightly was on his guard when he got a call about gunfire in the 1300 block of Tyler Ave. at 12: 30 a.m.

According to Garcia's statements, he saw three men running near the woods.

"As I approached the corner of the building near the woodline, I observed two male subjects beating another subject who was laying on the ground," Garcia reported. "One of these subjects then broke a large glass bottle over the victim's head as the second subject kicked the victim in the head. I ran up close to these subjects and yelled, 'Police, step back now!' "

Garcia shot a young man, 19-year-old Vernon E. Estep Jr., as the man raised a broken bottle to strike Jackson again. The other teen, Daughtry, "turned towards me while reaching to the rear of his trousers, which I believed he was going for a weapon," Garcia said in the statement. "I fired two shots to his torso area."

According to police accounts of the shooting, four shots were fired, two at Daughtry and two at Estep.

"I believed myself to be in immediate physical danger," Garcia wrote, adding that both were facing him when they were shot.

Garcia also stated that he recovered three off-white rocks, believed to be crack cocaine, from a napkin Estep threw away when Garcia arrived.

But in a statement to detectives just hours after the shooting, Jackson, the beating victim, described Daughtry as "one of the better younger persons in that neighborhood." He told police the young man was trying to stop the fight. He didn't remember Garcia identifying himself.

"As far as Cochise is concerned, I do remember Cochise telling Vernon, you know to, 'Stop it, whatcha doing.' And at the same thing, about that time, I heard someone say, 'Stop, halt, stop. And then I heard a couple gun shots, and then things just kinda blurred again," the statement read.

"I don't think Cochise ever made it to the point where he was close enough to me to put his hands on me," Jackson said. He said he thought Estep was trying to rob him of the $87 in his pocket, "cause [Daughtry] was running down there trying to tell Estep to stop it."

In a subsequent account to police given at 7 p.m. the day of the shooting from an Anne Arundel Medical Center hospital bed, Jackson implied that the teen-agers were involved in drug dealing and that he was unsure whether one or two men were beating him. Police relayed Jackson's second account to the public.

"I think Carlester's first statement is a bunch of bull," Police Chief Joseph S. Johnson said in an interview last week. "Anytime you are dealing with people involved in a drug conspiracy, it's difficult to separate the truth from these people."

In both statements, Jackson credits Garcia with saving his life.

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