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Posted at 7:04 AM ET, 02/24/2011

'Mob' menaced officer before shooting: Testimony

By Ruben Castaneda

The Prince George's County police officer who fatally shot a man in a Langley Park apartment testified Wednesday that he was menaced by six or seven men, most of whom suddenly appeared moments before he pulled the trigger.

In a sworn deposition videotaped in May, Cpl. Steven Jackson testified that he was struggling with two men over his metal police baton when "four or five" men appeared and joined the first two.

"They're pushing, they're yelling, they're screaming," Jackson, 27, testified in the deposition. "It's somewhat of a mob." Jackson testified that he begged for the men to get back, but they only pushed harder toward him.

Hands were grabbing at his police belt where he kept his ammunition and service weapon, and a couple of the men were also trying to wrest away his police baton, Jackson testified. Fearful that he would lose control of his gun, Jackson said, he took it out of the holster and pointed it at the group of men to try to scare them back.

Manuel de Jesus Espina, 43, kept coming toward him, so he shot him, Jackson testified.

Jackson testified that he quickly ran to the door. Some of the men temporarily pushed him outside the doorway into the basement hallway, Jackson said. The men did not leave through the door, and Jackson said he did not know how they left the apartment.

In the days following the shooting, police said nothing about a group of men attacking Jackson or a search for a group of assailants. In his initial written statement about the incident, which was entered into evidence in the civil case, Jackson made no mention of a mob of attackers.

The videotaped testimony was played for a Circuit Court civil jury in Upper Marlboro, which is hearing testimony in a civil lawsuit brought by relatives of Manuel de Jesus Espina, the man Jackson fatally shot on Aug. 16, 2008.

Espina's relatives have filed a wrongful death suit against Jackson, the county, and the property management company that employed Jackson as a security guard. Jackson was moonlighting as a security guard at an apartment building in the 8000 block of 14th Street when he fired a single fatal shot into Espina's torso.

Jackson's videotaped deposition was played for the jury before Jackson was called to the witness stand by attorneys for Espina's family. In the videotape, Jackson is asked by Timothy F. Maloney, an attorney for the Espina family, where the four or five men came from. "I have no idea," Jackson replied.

Jackson testified that he saw the one door to the apartment closed, and he is certain the men didn't follow him through that door.

During his turn on the witnesess stand in court, Jackson acknowledged under direct examination by Maloney that he had no reason to suspect Espina had committed a crime when the encounter began. Jackson testified that he was with a group of about a half-dozen men, some of whom were drinking beer, in front of a brick, three-story apartment building.

After Maloney read the Maryland statute for loitering, which says police cannot charge someone with that offense unless that person has ignored an order from a police officer or security guard to leave an area, Jackson acknowledged Espina and the other men hadn't been told to move along. Jackson said he had no reason to believe Espina or anyone else in the group was trespassing. Espina lived in the building next door, which is part of the same complex.

Jackson's account differed dramatically from the testimony of three plaintiff witnesses who testified last week. Those witnesses said Jackson pepper-sprayed Espina, beat him with his fists and baton, threw him down a flight of stairs, then fatally shot him, even though Espina was not resisting. Jackson angrily swore at Espina and, as she wailed over her dying husband, Espina's wife, the witnesses testified.

On the witness stand in court, Jackson testified that he drove past the apartment building in his marked police cruiser twice, hoping that the half-dozen or so men in front of the building would disperse. The tactic had worked before, Jackson said.

The men didn't leave, so Jackson parked in a parking lot near the building and looked at the gathered men. One man, wearing a cowboy hat, walked away, Jackson said.

Jackson testified he waited a short amount of time, then got out of his cruiser and walked toward the group. Maloney asked whether Espina was behaving in a disorderly manner, making loud noises, or blocking the path of any pedestrians. Jackson replied that Espina was doing none of those things.

As he walked toward the group, Jackson said, one of them opened the locked door to the building, and he and the remaining men went into the building.

Jackson said he was concerned the men might still be blocking the paths of pedestrians inside the building. He followed them, unlocked the door to the building, and went up the stairs.

When Maloney asked why he did not activate his police cruiser's video camera, which was aimed at the front of the building, Jackson replied he was not necessarily thinking of gathering evidence of any possible crime.

"I had not verified a crime had occurred," Jackson said.

Once inside the building, Jackson said he went up the stairs. Jackson said he walked past one man in a stairwell or on a landing and saw two men on the second-floor landing.
The men had their backs to him and were looking at a wall, which he found suspicious, Jackson testified. Under questioning from Maloney, Jackson acknowledged the men might have been looking out a window.

Jackson said he asked the men if they had any weapons, then he patted down one man, who was wearing a red flannel shirt, and found nothing illegal.

Jackson said he started patting down Espina. Jackson said he had his right hand in the small of Espina's back, and had his left hand in the area of Espina's left hip, when Espina swung at him with his right elbow. Jackson said he was struck in the back of his neck.

Jackson said he pushed Espina to create distance and shoved him into the wall. Jackson said he began to walk up the stairs to see if anyone was on the third floor, and when he turned back, Espina was bouncing on his feet like a boxer in the moments before a fight begins.

Jackson said he believed Espina was beginning to charge at him, so he squirted Espina in the face with pepper spray. Jackson said he ordered Espina to get on his knees and put his hands behind his back.

Espina only partially complied, Jackson said. Espina got to his knees and put his left hand, which Jackson said he cuffed, behind his back. But Espina did not put his right hand behind his back, the officer testified.

In response to a question from Maloney, Jackson acknowledged he had seen Espina using his right hand to rub his pepper-sprayed eyes moments before.

Espina began pulling away, Jackson said, adding that the one handcuff on Espina's wrist could be a deadly weapon -- the other cuff was loose and had sharp metal edges.

Jackson said he and Espina began shoving each other. Jackson said he hit Espina with his fists about four times, possibly in the torso, shoulder, arm, and face.

Maloney showed Jackson photographs of blood on the wall and floor of the second-floor stairwell. Jackson said he did not notice the blood there before his encounter with Espina, but was not sure where the blood came from. Jackson said he himself was not bleeding.

A plaintiff witness testified last week that Jackson repeatedly slugged Espina in the face then threw him down the stairwell. Jackson denied throwing Espina down the stairwell.

Jackson testified that while they were struggling, both he and Espina lost their balance. Espina, Jackson said, tumbled down the stairs to the landing below. Espina was lying face-down, bleeding, Jackson said.

As he lost his balance, Jackson said he managed to grab a handrail about halfway down the stairs. Jackson said he landed with his knees on Espina's back.

"I was for the most part on top of him," Jackson said.

Jackson said he took out his metal police baton, not to strike Espina, but to use it for leverage to try to get Espina's right hand out from under his chest to be handcuffed.
Officers are trained to use the baton not just to strike people, but as a leverage tool, Jackson testified.

Espina was 5-feet-5 inches tall and weighed 160 pounds. Jackson is 5-feet-8 inches tall, and at the time of the incident, he said, he weighed between 185 and 190 pounds.
Though he had his knees on Espina's back, Espina began pushing up from the floor, Jackson said.

"He started to get up, and I allowed him to get up so I could disgengage," Jackson said.

Jackson said he believed Espina was about to attack again, so he pushed him from behind. Jackson said he tried to extend his metal police baton to its full length, but was unable to do so, and he used the weapon to push Espina, then began striking him with it.

Espina was slugging him, but on his protective vest, Jackson said. Though his head, arms, and legs were unprotected, he did not recall Espina landing any blows to those areas, Jackson said.

Jackson said he and Espina went down to the the ground level. Maloney showed Jackson photos of blood splatter on four metal mailboxes built into the wall on the first-floor, and more blood on part of the wall. Jackson said he did not notice the blood when he first entered the building.

By this point, Jackson said, he was out of breath, and Espina appeared tired too. Jackson said he called for backup on his police radio, and shortly thereafter heard sirens approaching.

About then, Espina ran down the stairs, toward a basement apartment unit. It was the apartment of friends who were going to throw a birthday party for Espina later that day.
Jackson testified that it appeared to him that Espina slammed into the door and forced it open.

Elvia Rivera, a young woman who lived in the apartment with her mother, testified last week that she looked through the peephole and saw Jackson beating Espina as they both went down the stairs. Rivera testified she was afraid for Espina and opened the door.

Jackson said he was concerned Espina was breaking into an apartment, and followed him in. Jackson said he had a hold on the back of Espina's shirt, and when he let go, Espina fell onto his back and began kicking at him.

Jackson said he heard women in the apartment screaming. Espina kicked him once, Jackson said, then he struck Espina in the legs and arms with his police baton.

Suddenly, Jackson said, he was pushed hard from behind, and fell onto a living room couch. Jackson said he turned and saw a young man helping Espina up off the ground. The man turned out to be Espina's son, Manuel de Jesus Espina Jacome, who had been told by a witness that an officer was beating his father; Espina Jacome entered the apartment through a small kitchen window that was exposed to the ground level of the front of the building.

Jackson said he stood up, and suddenly four or five more men ran toward him and joined Espina and his son, who were grabbing at his baton.

"It made it a lot scarier for me," Jackson said.

Jackson said he felt hands tugging at his waistband, where he kept his ammunition and gun.

The trial testimony ended at that point. In his videotaped deposition, Jackson said he was afraid the group of men would beat him to death, and concerned his gun would be taken away. To keep control of his gun, he said, he took it out of its holster and aimed it at the group, hoping the men would back up. But Espina kept coming toward him, so he fired a single shot into his torso, Jackson said.

Jackson testified he then ran toward the door, which was closed, and held it open. Some of the men pushed him out into the basement hallway, but he quickly got back in, Jackson said. All of the men, except for Espina and his son, got away, but they did not go through the door he was near, Jackson said. Jackson said he did not know where the men went.

Police charged Espina Jacome with second-degree assault and resisting arrest. Prosecutors dropped those charges.

Jackson has not been charged with a crime in connection with the shooting. Prince George's prosecutors and a police internal affairs investigator have at times been in the courtroom during the trial.

By Ruben Castaneda  | February 24, 2011; 7:04 AM ET
Categories:  From the Courthouse, Pr. George's, Ruben Castaneda, Updates  | Tags:  Prince George's County police misconduct  
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