Checking the facts on two recent police-involved shootings

Amid a backdrop of tensions between police and Baltimore residents, two recent police-involved shootings have gotten little coverage in the media, but both have left the suspects’ families and supporters upset and angry—that their loved ones had been shot, and that they could not at first get into the hospital to see them. City Paper looked into their concerns. We found armed felons with potentially complicated cases, and a police department that does not share much information about open cases, potentially stoking the mistrust. 

Police shot Keith Davis Jr. in the face on June 7 after chasing him into a garage on Eleanora Avenue. According to stories circulating on social media, Baltimore police profiled an African-American man who was wearing headphones, chased him, shot him in the face, and then jailed him without bail and without charges. A photo passed around Facebook depicted a young African-American man sitting up in what looked like a hospital bed, his face bandaged. The suspicion that cops had acted improperly was buoyed by news reports that the officers involved had been placed on administrative leave.

A department spokesperson, asked for comment about the case, said it is standard procedure to place police who were involved in a shooting on administrative leave. This does not mean that the department suspects those officers did anything improper. It is also standard to deny visitors to violent offenders who are hospitalized, for security reasons.

“This is an active investigation being handled by Detectives from our Force Investigation Team,” a police spokesperson emailed City Paper when we asked for more detail on the Davis case. “What I can say, the suspect is a 23-year old male who is listed in stable condition at an area hospital. We will provide updates when more information becomes available.”

But activist Kwame Rose, who was not a witness to the shooting but was among those accusing the police of wrongdoing in the case, says the police had no cause to shoot Davis.

“No one saw him pull a weapon out on police officers,” Rose says in a telephone interview. “Everyone has the right to bear arms in this country. Police, whenever they see a black person with a gun, they just start shooting.”

But it’s not true that “everyone has the right to bear arms in this country.” People, like Davis, convicted of felonies and other “disqualifying crimes,” are not allowed to possess firearms of any kind, and face enhanced penalties if they are caught with them.

Rose claims that Davis used his cellphone to call his girlfriend and speak to her as police closed in on his location. “She hears him say ‘wait wait I’m surrendering.’ Then they shot him in the face,” Rose claims.

That’s what Kelly Carter says happened. Reached by phone on June 22, Carter says the call—one minute, seven seconds—was terrifying. “I had never heard gunshots before,” the education paraprofessional who has been dating Davis for about half a year—but has known him as a friend of her younger brother for years—says. “It sounded like popcorn popping in the microwave, like toward the end: Popopopop.”

Carter heard Davis say “they shot me,” she says. “Then I hear ‘pop pop.’ And the phone drops. Then I heard one more big pop and the phone goes dead.”

In all the commotion, Carter says she had a hard time hearing what was going on. But when she spoke to Davis later he told her he was walking and started running and they shot him. “He said, ‘I don’t have a gun, I don’t have nothing,’” Carter says.

Just finding him in Sinai Hospital after the incident was extremely stressful for Carter and Davis’s family, she says. She had to call around for two hours, checking Shock Trauma, the police department, the jail—including friends who work in these places—before learning where Davis was.

The narrative told in the police report filed in Davis’s arrest on June 14 is very different than the one that circulated among activists on social media.

According to the affidavit, police had stopped for a vehicle accident near the intersection of West Belvedere and Saint Charles Avenue when a car pulled up and got a cop’s attention. The driver of the car, a Charles Holden, “advised that the passenger in his vehicle . . . had a gun and was robbing him. That is when the suspect Keith Davis Jr. fled his vehicle and the initial foot chase started.”

Holden, who City Paper was unable to contact, told police that he was hacking—driving as an unlicensed cab—when Davis flagged him down for a ride to the Yale Heights apartments, according to the affidavit. Shortly after that he pulled a gun, said “you got any money?” and started checking Holden’s pockets. “That’s when the victim observed police and advised that he was being robbed.”

The affidavit says Davis ran, holding a gun, followed by police officer Lane Eskins and Sgt. Alfredo Santiago. Davis crossed Reisterstown Road and ran down Eleanora Avenue, into a garage at 5202. Police say they saw Davis “raise his weapon and point it in the direction of both Sgt. Santiago and Officer Eskins.”

The sergeant ordered Davis to drop the gun and raise his hands, according to the affidavit, “which he refused. At that time both Sgt. Santiago and Off. Eskins discharged their weapons.” The cops called for backup while “Mr. Davis continued to take a position of cover while being ordered multiple times to drop his weapon. Mr. Davis refused to surrender and officers who had a position to have visual contact advised he was pointing the weapon at the officers and the door to the location. Additional shots were fired at Mr. Davis. Mr. Davis then yelled that he would put the gun down and come out if the officers would not kill him.”

The affidavit reports that Davis did as instructed and after that, police entered and found him shot in the face. They found a .22 caliber handgun atop a refrigerator, “where he had placed it prior to surrendering from a position of cover behind multiple steel cabinets.”

Herbert “Big Herb” Berkley owns the auto repair shop that Davis ran into. He wasn’t in the garage when Davis ran in, but his son and son’s girlfriend were. He says their story is mostly the same as it is alleged in the charging document. They say Davis ran in through the big overhead door holding a gun. “He asked if there was a back door,” Berkley says. “My son told him no.”

The police were close behind demanding Davis surrender. “So instead he started shooting at the police,” Berkley says. The police affidavit does not mention Davis firing at police—although Davis was charged with discharging the weapon, according to the online case summary. “The police returned fire,” Berkley says.

Berkley shows the position Davis allegedly took in the shop. First there is a U-shaped arrangement of red steel tool chests, almost set up as if to provide concealment for a person shooting at people outside. Davis, Berkley says, crouched in there at first before moving a few steps back, behind a refrigerator that stands behind the tool chest arrangement. He moves there himself and crouches. “They shot through the refrigerator and hit him in the face,” Berkley says, pointing to the bullet hole that comes from the left side through the door of the freezer section, and the red stains a few inches below the hole: “That’s his blood. I’m leaving it like it is so I can send [the bill] to Miss Piggy.”

By that he means Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Berkley is not a fan, and he believes the city will reimburse him for the property damage. There are bullet holes in at least two tool chests, plus the fridge—each item retailing for about $400, Berkley says. More bullet holes pock the concrete block wall at the back of the shop, and a few more are found in the Sheetrock wall outside his office. “At least 20 shots,” Berkley says. “At least 20.”

The affidavit does not say how many shots were fired or who fired them, but investigators afterward found at least 25 spent shell casings outside the garage.

Berkley came to the shop from church to find police and crime lab technicians, and was not able to get inside for more than five hours, he says.

Davis faces 17 charges, including attempted armed robbery, robbery, first-degree assault, and various handgun charges, including possession by a felon.

In the past he has been convicted in Baltimore City on drug charges, assault, and violating probation. He lives in Columbia. His court date is set for July 14.

Carter says Davis was hit in the arm and the face. She was the first to arrive at the hospital the day he was shot, she says. He was under police guard and she wasn’t allowed to see him. His parents got in the next day, she says. Carter had to wait until the fourth day. She says after Davis refused to give a statement to police without his lawyer, visiting was restricted to only his lawyer. (According to court documents, his public defender is Janette Deboissiere.)

“What is the harm in his family being able to see him,” Carter asks. “Wrong or right, if Keith did something, at the end of the day, he’s still a person who has rights.”

Carter acknowledges Davis’s criminal record, but says he takes responsibility for what he does. “Keith is not a saint,” Carter says. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he never made a bad decision. But there is no way Keith was shooting a gun and talking to me on the phone. There is no way that he posed a threat to be shot in the face.

“I never judge police officers because it’s a job I could never do,” Carter says. “My daughter’s godfather is a Northeastern district detective. I know I could never walk a day in their shoes. But at the end of the day right is right and wrong is wrong. There is policy and procedure. And in this case policy and the procedure was not followed.”

Told what is in the police report of the incident, Carter says the robbery scenario doesn’t make sense. “Why would he allow himself to be driven toward the blue lights,” she asks. “Why would he rob a hack, of all people? Everyone knows hacks don’t have money. He had money. My brother gave him money. Keith had $20.”

 

On the day before Freddie Gray died, police shot Dawan Hawkins while fleeing from a car they were chasing. Like Davis, Hawkins has prior convictions which prohibit his possession of firearms.

Friends of Hawkins told City Paper shortly after he was shot that he could not have run from police because he is overweight. They say police stopped a car Hawkins was riding in and then shot him for no reason.

The police say they stopped a 2009 Honda on the 1300 block of Bloomingdale Road on April 18. Officer Daniel Belen knocked on the driver’s side window and the driver sped away up Bloomingdale, when a second officer, David Bodine, pursued it. The car turned right on Presstman Street, where Hawkins bailed out and started running. The charging affidavit says Hawkins “ran into the 2700 block of Baker Street (rear odd side)” and into a field as Bodine chased him on foot. Then, according to the police, Hawkins “pointed a Sentinel .22 revolver, black in color, serial number 1444341, with five live round, at officer Bodine. Officer Bodine withdrew his departmentally issued service weapon and discharged six (6) rounds at Mr. Hawkins, hitting him five times.”

Other police arrived and got the gun away from Hawkins while medics tended his wounds and got him to Shock Trauma. The department’s Force Investigation Team arrived soon after. A sergeant told the officers that Hawkins had two prior gun charges, including one as a juvenile, that meant he was not allowed to have a firearm.

Hawkins was admitted to the hospital and held until 2 a.m. on April 25, when he was, according to the charging document, arrested and taken to the homicide unit where he was interviewed before proceeding to the Central Booking and Intake Facility.

At some point the case went to a grand jury, which indicted Hawkins. He is charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, use of the gun in a crime of violence, illegal possession of ammunition, first- and second-degree assault, and assault on a law enforcement officer. Hawkins is scheduled for court on Aug. 4.

What is unclear is why the police stopped the Honda in the first place. No reason is given, and that gives Hawkins’ lawyer (listed in court documents as public defender Martin Cohen) an opening.

“All occupants have standing to challenge the stop of a vehicle. So the passenger can argue that the gun was unlawfully seized,” says Steven H. Levin, a lawyer with no connection to the case, in an email to City Paper. “The passenger would not, however, be able to argue that the unlawful stop, if that’s what it was, should result in a dismissal of an assault charge.”

Levin says the officers could testify as to their reason for stopping the car at a motions hearing later in the legal process. “But from a tactical standpoint, the officer is in a much better position if the basis is included in the affidavit, because it is more believable than waiting until the hearing to offer the basis,” Levin says.

Hawkins’ sister, Chimere Lewis, says she was not able to visit her brother in the hospital before he was jailed. “They didn’t tell us anything,” she says. “They said because he was under arrest.”

Lewis says she and friends are looking for a witness. She heard there might be an older woman who saw what happened. She doesn’t  trust a word in the police report, which is not surprising in an atmosphere made toxic by police brutality and unrest, amid a spike in gun violence not seen in decades—which is widely blamed on police not doing their jobs. Arrests are down, while crime—including shootings (264 this year as of June 22, against 141 the same period last year), armed robberies, and murders (139 vs. 93)—is up.

Lewis also says Hawkins has video of the incident, taken on his cellphone. “He called me every day, he told me he’s OK,” Lewis says. “He has the film. They won’t release the property to no one. He said he had his hands up when they shot him.”

 

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