Civil jury clears officer in fatal shooting

Teen-ager's 1996 death sparked racial tensions

January 29, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A civil jury became the third panel to clear an Annapolis police officer of wrongdoing in the 1996 fatal shooting of a teen-ager in a housing project, quickly returning a verdict yesterday in favor of the city.

Deliberating about an hour and a half, the six-person Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury found that Officer David Garcia did not act improperly in killing Cochise O. Daughtry, 18, in a Labor Day shooting that exacerbated racial tensions between the mostly black Robinwood community where Daughtry lived and the mostly white city police force.

Daughtry's parents, Ruby Tyler of Annapolis, and Bobby W. Lucas of Emporia, Va., who had filed the multimillion-dollar lawsuit, appeared upset and left the courtroom quickly. They declined to comment.

Their lawyers, Charles G. Byrd Jr. and Daryl D. Jones, said they will consider an appeal based on several issues, among them rulings by Judge Michael E. Loney that favored the defense and a move by lawyers for the city that struck black jurors from the panel, leaving an all-white jury. Daughtry was black.

Garcia, now a detective, said he felt that the cloud hanging over him for three years was gone.

"This has given me back my reputation. It was definitely my reputation on the line, my integrity," he said.

An Annapolis police probe into the shooting cleared him, and a grand jury refused to indict him. Byrd and Jones argued unsuccessfully to keep the results of those investigations from the jury, saying the standards they used were far different from what the jury should consider.

City Attorney Paul G. Goetzke said the city's victory was tempered by the family's loss.

"The city finds no solace in any part of this tragic event. A family lost their 18-year-old son. Nevertheless, the jury's verdict makes clear, as we said all along, that Officer Garcia acted properly that night," Goetzke said.

"We think the weight of the evidence was otherwise," said Byrd.

Responding to a call reporting gunshots shortly after midnight in Robinwood, Garcia saw three men running. He found what appeared to be Daughtry kicking Carlester Jackson, 40, and Vernon E. Estep Jr., 19, hitting Jackson in the head with a bottle. He said he saw Estep throw a napkin, which later was found to contain three rocks of crack cocaine.

Garcia fired four times. The first bullet hit Estep in the abdomen. Two other bullets struck Daughtry in the right rear hip and in the chest. Though a medical examiner could not tell which bullet struck Daughtry first, Garcia's statements that Daughtry was reaching around to his back led some police investigators to suspect that Daughtry was reaching not for a weapon as the officer thought, but for a wound in the buttocks. As he turned and faced Garcia, he was shot in the chest.

No weapon was recovered. A fourth bullet was not found.

Neither Jackson, who gave conflicting statements about what happened, nor Estep, who pleaded guilty last summer to assault and recklessly endangering another person and was given a two-year suspended prison sentence, was called as a witness. Estep maintained that he was trying to get away from Jackson and that Daughtry was not involved.

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