An unhappy Father's Day for Elliott's mother
June 22, 2000
Eyobong Ita
Staff Writer

Supporters rally on seventh anniversary of shooting death

For Forestville resident Dorothy Copp Elliott, Father's Day is usually depressing. But Sunday was worse than the others. It was the seventh anniversary of the shooting death of her eldest son, Archie Elliott III.

"Belated Happy Father's Day to all fathers present," Elliott's mother told a small crowd at the Prince George's County Police headquarters in Palmer Park Monday -- a day after Father's Day, celebrated the same date her son was killed seven years ago. "It is most unfortunate that our son, Archie -- whom we affectionately called 'Artie' for 24 years -- said his last 'Happy Father's Day' to his dad in June of 1992. Artie said his last 'Happy Birthday, Mom' to me on June 19, 1992. It was with great sadness to learn that he was planning a birthday party for me on the night before he was killed."

A handful of supporters and sympathizers had gathered to protest the killing of Archie Elliott, regarded by many as a victim of police brutality in a county where police have become a major cause of concern among citizens and elected officials.

On June 18, 1993, District Heights police officer Jason Leavitt and county patrolman Wayne Cheney fatally shot the then 24-year-old Elliott, firing 22 shots at close range and hitting him 14 times during his arrest for driving under the influence.

The officers claimed that he pointed a .22-caliber handgun at them, so they shot him in self-defense. However, at the time he was killed, Elliott was handcuffed and seated in front of Leavitt's cruiser with his seat belt strapped. He was only wearing a pair of shorts and sneakers, according to several accounts of the incident.

Neither of the officers were tried. A county grand jury did not indict them.

The Justice Department also concluded that Elliott's civil rights were not violated.

David Mitchell, the state's superintendent of police who was the county's police chief at the time, told The Gazette that he faulted Leavitt in his report, for not conducting a proper search while arresting Elliott.

"If he had conducted a proper search he would have found the gun on him," Mitchell said Feb. 4 last year.

Dorothy Elliott has never believed the police version of her son's death.

"We all believe that it was virtually impossible for our son to have maneuvered his shackled hands to his side and 'point a handgun' as the police alleged," she said Monday. "We wonder if the police asked these same questions and obtained answers objectively and free of bias whatsoever. The truth be told that we would not be here today if that was the case."

Flanked by lawyers, ministers, parents and relations of people killed by police officers and civil rights activists, including the Rev. Walter Fauntroy and Joe Madison, Dorothy Elliott questioned the integrity of Police Chief John S. Farrell in creating an environment "where responsibility reflects justice and equity," as contained in his police department's vision statement.

In the last 15 months, 10 citizens have died in police hands.

The last two people -- Clarence Edward Stewart, 52, of Upper Marlboro and Kendall Grant, 47, of Temple Hills, died at the hands of police May 19 and 20, respectively, fueling new accusations of police brutality against a county police department that is being investigated by the FBI for possible violation of citizens' human rights.

Before Stewart and Grant, other citizens, including Charles Ivy Huddleston Jr., 27, of Temple Hills; Robert Silver, 35, of Clinton; Howard Robinson, III 27, of Laurel; Raymond Zachary Simpson, 38, of Camp Springs; Gary Hopkins Jr., 19, of Lanham; Gregory Allen Cooper, 39, of unknown address; and Elmer Clayton Newman Jr., 29, of Oxon Hill -- have died in police custody since April 1999.

"Justice needs to be done not only in this case but in all of the cases in Prince George's County, so I'm here today to show my support for that justice," said State Sen. Nathaniel Exum (D-Dist. 24) of Capitol Heights, who joined protesters at the rally.

"We should never give up for that justice," Exum said. "As one who has gone through the civil rights struggle, fought for freedom and justice for all, I think in this case we should continue our quest not only in the Archie Elliott case, but most specifically in the case just recently," Exum said, referring to the June 9 shooting of Jose B. Buruca-Melgar, an unarmed civilian, by Cpl. Charles K. Ramseur, an 11-year police veteran credited with three shootings.

Ramseur shot Buruca-Melgar outside a pizza parlor in Adelphi.

Exum said it has to be "a horrendous situation" for a police officer [Ramseur] to be involved in a shooting three times and still remain in the force.

"Now we talk about three strikes and you're out, and it seems to me that this is his three strikes and he should be gone. Apply it on both sides of the fence, not only on one side, especially when you shoot a drunken person through the window, sitting in a police cruiser, I just can't seem to take that," Exum said, referring to published reports that Ramseur shot Buruca-Melga from the window of his car.

Elliott's attorney Bradley Thomas said he is still asking the State's Attorney to empanel a new grand jury to re-examine the case. "And if that fails, that the governor would call on the State's Prosecutor to empanel a new grand jury and that justice be finally done in the case of Artie Elliott."

Johnson has repeatedly said he will not reopen the case unless there was new evidence. Johnson's stand was unacceptable to Archie Elliott's supporters. Led by Madison, host of a morning show on Lanham-based WOL Radio, they formed the "Enough Is Enough" group and staged 15 weeks of weekly protest marches at the Prince George's County Courthouse in Upper Marlboro.

When Johnson didn't yield, the protest shifted to the governor's mansion in Annapolis Aug. 11, two days before the group's 25-mile, two-day walk from Lanham to Annapolis to present Glendening with a petition requesting him to appoint a state prosecutor to reexamine the case.

That too failed.

At Monday's protest, Fauntroy told the group that they must seek justice at all costs.

Madison agreed.

"We're not only here to free the pain and sorrow of Mrs. Elliott, we're here also to free and unshackle the officers who feel that they can't speak out in this very building, because of retribution," Madison said Monday.

"Somebody said to me that we don't need to bring this up because we are a new county and a different county," said Rev. C. Anthony Muse, senior pastor of the Ark of Safety Church in Oxon Hill. "And I said that we are not a new county, we are an overhaul county with old wounds and old behaviors still repeating themselves

"I do not understand why our State's Attorney will not open up the case? Muse asked. "And I have to ask myself, 'what is it that we really do not want to face?' And to say that we're really a new county, then we need not be afraid of reopening the cases."

Clarcy Newman, mother of the slain Elmer Newman, also made a solidarity appearance at the rally.

"It's really been hard because number one, I don't have a reason why he's dead," she said, referring to her slain son. "It's been really heartbreaking just to be home and see his pictures and don't see him come home, so yes it's been really hard for all the members of the family, but we're just trying to cope with it. We know God will take care of him."

Dorothy Elliott shares Newman's pain.

"It has been pure agony for me and my family over the last seven years," Dorothy Elliott said. "There have been many days when I did not feel as though I could go on, but the travesty of justice in my son's case forced me to do what I feel I must do. It tears at your soul when you have no accountability in such an egregious death as our son's killing. The only way I can endure is because...God is my comforter."