Estela Espina won an $11.5 million judgment against the government in 2011, after a jury decided that her husband, Manuel de Jesus Espina, had been needlessly shot and killed by a Prince George’s County police officer.
Espina’s attorneys successfully argued in 2011 that Cpl. Steven 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.”
The shooting occurred three years prior in 2008. Jackson avoided criminal charges for the incident, but did not fare as well in the civil action. Of course, Jackson was not alone in falling under the police brutality microscope. His was one of multiple police brutality settlements that Prince George’s County had to settle around that time.
As the Washington Post noted in their 2011 rundown, over a one-year period of time, the county had previously settled “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.”
In the Espina case, an autopsy showed Manuel, 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,” while Jackson escaped without contusions or bruises, though he noted “some soreness.” The officer was three inches taller and outweighed Manuel by 30 pounds, but said he feared for his life because there were as many as six other men backing Manuel.
“It was a fight,” Jackson said. “It was beyond resisting… It was active aggression.”
With the evidence seemingly in her husband’s favor, Estela Espina wants to know how it has now been four years since the judgment, seven since her husband’s death, and she hasn’t received a single dime.
In the 1980s, Maryland passed a law that capped how much local governments are liable to plaintiffs who win civil judgments against them. Prince George’s has interpreted that law to mean they only have to pay $400,000 of the $11.5 million judgment. They haven’t even paid that, however, because the case has been under appeal and will soon come before the Maryland Supreme Court.
The ACLU of Maryland is outraged at what that has meant for Estela Espina, as evidenced in this statement.
“The jury that heard their case awarded them a significant remedy in recognition of the egregious harm they suffered and continue to suffer. But they have survived all this only to be told that the government has enacted a law to protect itself from paying what the jury said is owed for a civil rights violation of this magnitude.”
Do you think county governments and municipalities should be allowed to cap the amount they owe to citizens who win civil judgments against them? Should Prince George’s County be forced to pay the full amount of this judgment to Estela Espina? Sound off in our comments section.