Jury to hear assault case

Beating led to shooting that caused fraying of race relations in '96

`A lot of bad feelings'


An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury is expected to revisit this week the 1996 fight and shooting that stirred up racial tensions and anti-police sentiment in Annapolis' Robinwood public housing community.

On Wednesday, the court is scheduled to take up the case of Vernon E. Estep Jr., 22, charged with assault with intent to murder, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

The beating, never fully explained, of 40-year-old Carlester Jackson on Labor Day 1996 lies at the heart of the case against Estep. It was the catalyst for a chain of events that ended with the shooting death of a black teen-ager by a white city police officer.

Estep, of the 1100 block of Madison St., is likely to testify during his trial, which officials predict will last three days and draw acute attention. Expected in the courthouse are not only Estep's supporters from Robinwood, but representatives of both sides in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit the family of Cochise O. Daughtry filed against the city and the police officer who killed him.

Neither Estep's attorney nor prosecutors would discuss the evidence they plan to present.

On the night Jackson was beaten, Officer David W. Garcia, responding to reports of gunfire, followed Estep, Jackson and Daughtry as they ran toward a wooded area in Robinwood. Garcia said that when he reached them, Jackson was being attacked by the other two. Garcia shot and wounded Estep, and fatally shot Daughtry, 18, of the 1300 block of Tyler Ave.

Enraged community

The shooting enraged the impoverished black Robinwood community. Residents accused police of racial bias and a cover-up, and staged public protests.

"I imagine there is going to be a big turnout at the trial. And, yes, there are still a lot of bad feelings here over it," said black activist Robert H. Eades.

A 23-member grand jury declined to indict Garcia, then a seven-year police veteran, who maintained that he shot Daughtry and Estep because the men were beating Jackson, of the 1400 block of Tyler Ave. The grand jury indicted Estep. A police internal investigation cleared Garcia.

Lack of cooperation

"A number of people, they wouldn't talk to us. They would only talk to the grand jury," said Frank R. Weathersbee, Anne Arundel state's attorney. He said it was the only time he could recall that happening.

Attorneys for Estep have maintained that he is innocent.

"He is not the aggressor in this. Carlester Jackson was," said defense lawyer Anthony B. Covington. "There are other witnesses aside from Vernon Estep who will corroborate the fact that he [Estep] was not the aggressor."

Jackson has given police several accounts of what happened. At first, he indicated that Daughtry was trying to stop Estep from beating him and that he suspected Estep was trying to rob him of the $87 in his pocket. In a later account, he said he was unsure whether one or two men were attacking him and he implied the younger men were involved in drug-dealing. In all the accounts, Jackson credited the police officer with saving his life.

The defense maintains that had Garcia seen the start of the dispute, he would have known that Estep was not to blame.

Garcia found three rocks believed to be crack cocaine at the scene, in a napkin he said Estep threw away as the officer arrived. Estep also is charged with one count of cocaine possession.

Pub Date: 7/05/99

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