At around 7 a.m. Sunday, Stephanie Sweeney walked down her driveway to see why police patrol cars were on her block.
Their prolonged presence was a curious occurrence in a neighborhood located just down the road from a Christmas tree farm and Glenwood Country Day School in one of the more rural parts in Howard County.
The officers had been there since 1:16 a.m., and Sweeney wasn’t sure why.
She soon learned there had been a killing at a neighbor’s home in the 14000 block of Carriage Mill Road around 1 a.m., and that officers had yet to identify the victim. When she approached, police said the deceased was a “heavyset white man with a tattoo," according to Sweeney.
So she pulled out her phone and showed a picture of Gerardo Alberto Espinoza, a friend visiting from Chantilly, Virginia, who was originally from Nicaragua and not white.
Police confirmed the victim was Espinoza, 46, and said that Sweeney’s neighbor, Charles Dorsey, had shot and killed him six hours earlier.
According to a video captured by a door camera at Dorsey’s home, Espinoza jostled the door handle while Dorsey yelled at him to leave.
Police say Espinoza shouted threats and profanity, including, “I’m going to f--- you up.”
In the video, Dorsey’s wife is heard calling 911, and Dorsey is heard shouting, “He pushed the door open, he pushed the door open," police said.
The video shows the door “releases” and then Dorsey shoots Espinoza, police said. Police declined a request to view the footage, saying it “cannot be publicly released at this time.”
Sweeney and her husband, Mike, said Espinoza and his wife, Joanne, were guests Saturday night at their home and relaxing by their pool. Espinoza went next door to the house of other friends, Chris and Jennifer Ford, where he stayed until shortly before 1 a.m., the Sweeneys said.
The Sweeneys believe that when Espinoza left the Fords’ house, he got confused and mistook the Dorsey’s house for their own because both have pools enclosed by black fences in their backyards.
“We believe he thought he was at our home and was attempting to enter our house, where he had planned on spending the night,” the Sweeneys said in a joint statement to the Howard County Times.
They believe that when Espinoza realized the door was locked, he thought his friends were pulling a prank on him by locking him out of the house. That’s why he reacted like he did, they said.
As for the profanity, “He was thinking he was talking to his best friend,” Stephanie Sweeney said. “I can’t believe he would be violent. What threatening person is ringing a doorbell wearing shorts?"
Espinoza, the Sweeneys said, was a U.S. citizen and a “proud and dedicated father who was an active and constant participant in the lives of his sons,” who are 20 and 16. He was a “warmhearted and fun-loving friend who always had a smile on his face and kind words for others. He was loved by all who knew him.”
The Sweeneys and the Fords questioned police handling of the case. Despite living down a driveway behind Dorsey’s home, police made no effort to interview them as part of their investigation, they said. Their only contact with officers occurred the morning following the shooting, when they inquired about the prolonged police presence.
Chris Ford said he asked officers at the scene if they wanted to interview his daughter, who was likely the last person to speak with Espinoza before his death. They declined, he said.
“Why aren’t they questioning someone in close proximity?” Stephanie Sweeney said. “The lack of questioning concerns us.”
In an email, Howard police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said, “Investigators have video of the incident, which occurred at the front of the house. Anyone who has new information about occurrences relevant to the investigation in other areas would be encouraged to contact police.”
Efforts to reach Espinoza’s family were unsuccessful, but in a post on Howard County Police Department’s Facebook page, a person identifying himself as Espinoza’s 16-year-old son made a comment using his father’s account.
The comment said Espinoza “was shirtless at the time because he was at a pool party. At the time he was intoxicated and confused and ended up at the wrong house by accident. He was completely unarmed and meant no threat to the family."
“My father lived the American dream while running and owning his own successful . . . company,” he added.
Police believe Espinoza “may have been drinking before the incident,” despite not having results from a toxicology screen which is done alongside the autopsy. Bruce Goldfarb, a spokesman for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, declined to comment on a timeline of Espinoza’s impending autopsy, saying they “don’t discuss cases that are under investigation.”
Goldfarb said it’s standard practice to perform toxicology screenings alongside autopsies.
Yolanda Vazquez, a spokeswoman for the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office, said the “investigation is ongoing” and no charges against Dorsey have been filed.
The Sweeneys said they became acquainted with Espinoza 14 years ago, when their sons were on the same baseball team. Espinoza graduated from Radford University in 1995 with a degree in marketing, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was the principal senior recruiter for ESPNET Consulting.
Kevin Robinson, a friend and former co-worker of Espinoza, said the media coverage of the killing is “really disturbing” because it doesn’t accurately reflect the man he knew.
“He’s not a criminal," said Robinson, who lives in Florida. “He does very well financially. He could never be trying to rob someone. Today’s times are a little scary for minorities."
Dorsey did not respond to requests for comment.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Cody Boteler, Pamela Wood and Colin Campbell contributed to this story.