County residents protest police brutality
Langley Park rally draws hundreds
Brenda Ahearn/The Gazette
Four groups of families stood side-by-side before hundreds of other families in Langley Park and held signs in English and Spanish that recounted the details of how their fathers, brothers or sons died.
The four, from different parts of Prince George's County, all shared a common link—they lost loved ones in incidents involving the Prince George's County Police Department or while under the care of the Department of Corrections.
"We are a society where justice should prevail," said June White Dillard, president of the Prince George's County branch of the NAACP, as the families surrounded her. "We want them to obey the laws, just like we do."
A number of community organizations, including immigrant advocacy group Casa of Maryland, hosted the Sept. 24 rally and march against police brutality in Langley Park, largely in response to the Aug. 16 death of Manuel de Jesus Espina, 43, who was shot by off-duty police officer Steven Jackson during an altercation in his apartment building on the 8000 block of 14th Street.
According to police, Jackson tried to arrest Espina for an alcohol violation. Jackson used pepper spray and his baton as Espina resisted arrest, and his son tried to take Jackson's baton away. Jackson feared for his life, police said, and shot Espina once in the torso.
At the time of the incident, Jackson was wearing his police uniform and working part-time as security guard for the apartment complex.
Maj. Andrew Ellis, a county police spokesman, said the shooting is still under investigation with the department's Serious Incident Response Unit, which conducts all police officer investigations. Jackson has been placed on administrative leave, in accordance with department policy.
Espina's wife, Estela Jacome, and son, Manuel de Jesus Espina Jacome, stood before the rally with other families. They said they felt left in the dark on the status of the investigation.
"We're feeling very confused right now, and we're almost sick because of it," his wife said in Spanish. "Once there is justice, there will be peace."
March organizers also invited audience members to speak about their own negative experiences with the police, and Casa attorneys compiled them into an official complaint.
Ellis said official complaints are investigated, and the officer with a complaint lodged against him cannot have contact with the person who filed the complaint. Citizens can make official complaints by filling out a form, located at police stations and public libraries.
"We certainly want to know if any of our residents are concerned about a specific incident by what they perceived as misconduct by one of our officers," he said. "We try to make it as easy as possible for a resident to report any allegations of brutality or excessive force."
Angie Johnson, the aunt of Ronnie L. White, said White's friends have been intimidated and harassed by police in the Beltsville area. White was killed while being held in a county jail cell for the June 27 death of Cpl. Richard Findley, county officer and volunteer for the Beltsville Volunteer Fire Department, who was struck in Laurel by a reportedly stolen pickup truck he was investigating.
Dorothy Elliott, whose son died after being shot 14 times by a county and District Heights officer in 1993, said there was a pattern among all of the cases, including character assassination of those shot by the police.
"There's an urgent need for justice in Ronnie White's and Manuel de Espina's cases," Elliott said. "And not Prince George's justice. I know firsthand what Prince George's justice is."
Tadele Gezahegn, brother of Genete Brooke, who was killed last month in unincorporated Hyattsville after an almost seven-hour barricade standoff with county police, criticized the police for use of excessive force, including tanks, to barricade Brooke, who had shot at police in Hyattsville.
Gustavo Torres, Casa's executive director, said he was hopeful that community relations with the police will improve dramatically with the county's new acting police chief, Roberto Hylton, and he reassured the crowd that Hylton knew their concerns. Casa representatives have already met with Hylton.
"He's Latino, and he's Afro-Latino. He knows the community very well," he said. "His philosophy is going to change the relationship between the police and the community."
The county police has a Citizen Compliant Oversight Panel which looks into complaints against the police and an early intervention system which indentifies officers with potential problems.
County Director of Public Safety Vernon Herron attended the rally to hear community concerns over police conduct and ensure residents' complaints will be "investigated to find the truth," he told the group.
"I hope that everyone that has a complaint against the police department files it so we can look into it," he later said.
Sen. David Harrington (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly stood before the crowd and held up a child with a sign that read "Langley Park community deserves respect from police officers."
"This is what I want," Harrington said. "So this young man can go to school, can play and be what he wants to be without intimidation. Is this what you want?"
The little boy yelled into the microphone, "Yes!"
E-mail Elahe Izadi at email@example.com.