Though a Prince George’s civil jury on Wednesday awarded a little more than $11.5 million for the wrongful death of a man fatally shot by a county police officer, the relatives of the victim and their attorneys may not see any large checks from the county any time soon.
The civil jury found the officer, Steven Jackson, 27, liable in the shooting death of Manuel de Jesus Espina, who was 43. Jackson beat, pepper-sprayed, and fatally shot Espina inside a Langley Park apartment on Aug. 16, 2008. The jury awarded more than $11.5 million to Espina’s widow, Estela, and his son, Manuel de Jesus Espina Jacome.
But appeals in such cases often take as many as three years before they are exhausted in the state’s Court of Special Appeals and the Court of Appeals, veteran civil rights attorneys said. Daniel Karp, the attorney who represented Jackson and the county in the monthlong trial, said the verdict would be appealed.
Though Jackson was moonlighting as a security guard when he shot Espina, he was taking police action, and therefore acting as an officer under the law. Prince George’s County typically indemnifies police officers for their police actions and pays any civil judgments or settlements.
In Maryland, state law typically caps civil awards against local governments at $200,000 per individual and $500,000 per incident.
But it is unresolved whether that cap applies to the constitutional claims that Espina’s attorneys brought against Jackson and the county. The Maryland Court of Special appeals has said it is unresolved whether the cap applies to constitutional claims in Maryland, and has acknowledged that in many states they do not.
That issue may be decided in a case that is pending before the Maryland Court of Appeals. That case involves a lawsuit won by Keith Longtin, who was awarded $6.3 million after a county civil jury found county police coerced a false murder confession from him.
The county and Espina’s attorneys could also reach a settlement before the appeals are exhausted.
During the trial, the property management firm that hired Jackson to work as a security guard, Gables Residential Services Inc., which was also named in the wrongful death lawsuit, settled for an undisclosed amount.
Timothy F. Maloney, an attorney for the Espina family, said he was “satisfied” with the settlement.