Tape of Alleged Assault on Officer Reviewed
Video of Hyattsville Traffic Stop Showed Driver Punched, Tackled by Policeman

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 28, 2009

Prince George's County police are reviewing the actions of an officer who arrested a motorist on charges of slugging and tackling him during a traffic stop in Hyattsville. A police video of the encounter last year shows the officer yanking the man out of his car, slugging him twice and tackling him.

"Step out of the car now, or I'll have you out of the car," Cpl. Steven Jackson says after the motorist does not comply with three rapid-fire demands to exit the car.

"You yelling, but you have to give me a reason to step out of the car," Shawn M. Leake, 24, replies.

Jackson opens the driver's side door and pulls Leake out of the car. Almost immediately, Jackson makes a fist and slugs Leake in the face, then quickly slugs him again in the face, the video shows. Leake does not hit or appear to try to punch Jackson.

After the second punch, Jackson grabs Leake around his neck and tackles him onto the street, and the two tumble out of camera range.

In a charging document, Jackson wrote that once Leake was out of the car, "he immediately took a combative stance and struck me with a closed fist uppercut to my face." As he tried to arrest Leake, Jackson wrote, "the defendant continued to fight me and even tackled me to the ground into the next lane of oncoming traffic."

County prosecutors dropped charges against Leake in January after defense attorney Douglas I. Malcolm subpoenaed the video of the encounter, which was recorded by a camera mounted in Jackson's police cruiser. Malcolm provided a copy of the video to The Washington Post.

Maj. Andy Ellis, a police spokesman, said that an internal investigation of the incident has been completed and that police supervisors are reviewing the findings. Ellis declined to elaborate but said that, after reviewing the video, he thinks Jackson's actions were appropriate.

"When an officer is involved in a violent incident, he's going to use his best recollection when writing up the statement of charges," Ellis said. "If there's a discrepancy, that should be clarified in court."

Leake could not be located. A union representative said Jackson would not comment.

Jackson's encounter with Leake occurred on the afternoon of May 25, 2008, three months before Jackson, moonlighting as a security guard, fatally shot an unarmed man in Langley Park. Jackson is on paid administrative leave while police and the Justice Department review his actions in the fatal shooting of Manuel de Jesus Espina, 43, on Aug. 16.

Jackson told police that he was attempting to arrest Espina for having an open container of alcohol in a stairwell. Police have said Espina was struggling violently with the officer. Espina's son and two other witnesses have said Espina was not resisting when he was beaten and shot.

Ellis said Jackson stopped Leake, who was driving a Cadillac, in part because the vehicle's windows were tinted. The tinted windows made the situation more dangerous for Jackson because he could not see whether other people were in the vehicle, Ellis said. Ellis said Leake had been previously arrested in Anne Arundel County for resisting arrest, a charge that was dropped. Ellis said he did not know whether Jackson knew of that charge at the time of the traffic stop.

Vince Canales, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, said that the videotape "clearly shows that the suspect was resisting arrest" and that Jackson's actions were justified.

Ellis and Canales said they think prosecutors should not have dropped charges against Leake. Jackson charged Leake with assaulting a police officer, reckless conduct and failure to obey a lawful order.

In a statement, State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D) said: "After reviewing the videotape and all the evidence, I decided not to prosecute [Leake]. We will continue to review the actions of Corporal Jackson in this and other cases."

Another officer can also be seen in the video. Ellis declined to identify the officer or make him available for an interview.

Ellis noted that Jackson's charging document states that the officer suffered a split lip that required several stitches.

In the video, after Jackson tackles Leake and the two tumble out of camera view, the two engage in a conversation, which is captured by the police video.

"You hit me in my [expletive] lip," Jackson says.

"I did not hit you, man," Leake replies. "I was trying to get out of the car. My leg was stuck to the thing."

"Dude, it's all on tape," Jackson said.

Leake replies, "You hit yourself when you tried to knock me out."

Staff writer Carrie Johnson and staff researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company