Starkly different accounts in man's fatal shooting by Prince George's officer

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 27, 2011; 9:56 PM

The encounter between Prince George's County police Cpl. Steven Jackson and Manuel de Jesus Espina, which ended with the officer fatally shooting Espina in a Langley Park apartment building, lasted just a few minutes.

But it produced a wealth of evidence: an intermittent trail of Espina's blood from a stairwell to a basement apartment, where Jackson shot him in the torso; eyewitnesses who saw the action; and an audio recording of a 911 call from inside the apartment moments after the 2008 shooting.

Now, a civil jury in Prince George's County Circuit Court will decide what that evidence means.

Jurors must determine how Espina, 43, who was hanging out with friends at the apartment complex where he lived and was not suspected of any crime, was killed on his birthday by a moonlighting officer.

The story is unfolding in a civil trial to determine whether Jackson, 27, is liable for Espina's death. Espina's relatives have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Jackson and the county. The lawsuit also names as a defendant the apartment management company that employed Jackson as a security officer.

Jackson has not been charged in the shooting, which occurred Aug. 16, 2008. Prince George's prosecutors said they are continuing to investigate.

Over the past year, the county has settled several high-profile police brutality lawsuits. For example, the county settled a civil lawsuit last month involving a botched drug raid in which sheriff's deputies, who had been called in to assist police, stormed the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo and fatally shot his family's two black Labrador retrievers. County officials and Calvo declined to disclose the amount of the settlement.

Many civil trials alleging that police acted outside the law when using deadly force come down to judging a split-second decision by an officer.

The Espina case is different.

Espina's attorneys allege that an enraged Jackson beat, pepper-sprayed and finally shot an unresisting Espina, then concocted a story about being attacked by as many as seven men before he fired his gun.

Jackson and his attorneys contend that Jackson used deadly force because he believed he was about to be overpowered by Espina and as many as six other men. "It was a fight," Jackson testified. "It was beyond resisting [arrest by Espina]. It was active aggression."

The autopsy showed that Espina, who was 5-foot-5 and weighed 160 pounds, was beaten badly around his left eye and suffered multiple bruises and contusions on his arms, legs and back. Jackson, who is three inches taller than Espina was and outweighed him by about 30 pounds, testified that he experienced some soreness after the encounter but suffered no contusions or bruises.

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