Prosecutor calls conduct of PAXRVR DoD Police and Navy personnel during investigation "atrocious"
By Guy Leonard, County Times
HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Aug. 21, 2008)—During his Circuit Court plea hearing Monday, Eric Antonio Brooks admitted to killing a man during a brawl that got out of control the night of Aug. 4, 2006. He will likely spend 18 months in the county detention center for the crime.
Brooks, 20, of California pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Travis Copeland, who died of a fatal stab wound while participating in the brawl, according to court testimony.
The prosecutor on the case, Daniel J. White, recounted the events of the night of the killing as one of escalating tensions between people in two neighboring homes, one owned by the victims brother, James Copeland, that broke out into a deadly melee.
When a young woman went over to a party at the Copeland house across the street, her mother followed her to bring her back home across the street on Mako Way, White said, which is where the initial argument started.
Partygoers at Copelands home, some of whom were Department of Defense police and U.S. Navy masters-at-arms, then came over to the yard of the other homeowner and continued the argument.
White said James Copeland and the other homeowner tried to calm the situation but failed.
A fight broke out involving several people from Copelands house as well as occupants inside the other home.
The fight quickly spilled into the other home where Travis Copeland, the decedent, became embroiled in a fight with one of Brooks friends.
Brooks used a small, serrated knife to try and break up the fight, stabbing Travis Copeland several times superficially but one time fatally while Travis Copeland and Brooks friend were fighting on the floor, White said.
The fatal wound barely clipped his aorta in the victims upper chest, White said. He didnt even realize how badly he was hurt.
The case took just over two years to get to trial, White said, in part because of the difficulty in getting many of the witnesses to cooperate with believable statements.
White said that the Department of Defense police, save James Copeland who was of their number, and the navy masters-at-arms, like the military police, were specifically not helpful, even trying to avoid questioning by local police during the investigation.
The DOD police and the U.S. Navy masters-at-arms ran from police, hid from police and lied to the police when the got there, White said. Except for James Copeland we didnt get a straight answer from anybody.
White said the particapants in he fight from the Copelands house had to be compelled to talk to investigators after the incident.
They [masters-at-arms] wouldnt speak to us until NCIS [Naval Criminal Investigative Service] came down and ordered them to, White said. The conduct of the masters-at-arms and DOD police was atrocious.
It was unclear who actually threw the first punch, White said, but it was clear that Brooks used too much force to stop the fight between his friend and Travis Copeland, who was a civilian at the time but had been employed as a corrections officer in Virginia.
There was no evidence it was a life threatening situation, White said. If he had hit him with a lamp
we wouldnt be here now.
During the investigation Brooks had said at first that he knew nothing about the stabbing, but later recanted and admitted he had stabbed Travis Copeland. He also admitted to hiding the weapon under a flowerpot.
Brooks, who said little in court, was originally sentenced to 10 years, but that sentence was suspended down to one-and-a-half years by Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Stamm, dependent on the results of a pre-sentencing investigation. the Copeland house across the street, her mother followed her to bring her back home across the street on Mako Way, White said, which is where the initial argument started.