The Civilian Review Board sustained excessive force complaints against all four of the Baltimore police officers who shot at Keith Davis Jr. in June 2015. In a letter dated April 4, the Board announced its findings and recommended termination for two of the officers—Lane Eskins and Alfred Santiago—and 30 day suspensions for the other two—Catherine Filippou and Israel Lopez.
On June 7, 2015, an unlicensed cab driver named Charles Holden was held up by someone who got into his car. “I said man what the fuck are you doing and I seen these two polices up there,” Holden told investigators. “I’m gonna run into the police car with my car.”
When Holden stopped the car in front of a police cruiser where Eskins was writing a ticket, the man with the gun jumped out and ran. Police and prosecutors say that man was Davis, who maintains that he was walking down the street talking on the phone when he saw police come running at him. “When they ran towards the crowd everybody kind of broke away from the crowd and ran in a direction,” Davis told me in a jailhouse call in 2015. “I wasn’t even the only one that ran in that direction but they ended up chasing me.”
It was barely a month after the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray had ended. He ran. Eskins, Filippou, and Santiago chased him into a garage, where they opened fire, letting off more than 40 shots.
“As I was running out the police lady, she had her gun…she shot,” said Martina Washington, who was in the garage drinking and washing a truck with her husband, told investigators. “It’s not like she shot at me. She shot around me or something.”
The initial statements by officers showed confusion on the scene. Initially they said that Davis fired a gun.
“I kept saying, ‘I don’t have nothing I don’t have nothing,’ and they just kept shooting,” Davis said. “I called Kelly and said, ‘The police trying to kill me.’”
Eventually he was shot three times and fell to the floor. Officers found a gun on top of a refrigerator in the garage. Evidence showed that the gun had not been fired and Davis denied ever being in possession of it.
These facts have been disputed in three trials already. In the first case, which charged Davis with 16 counts, including robbing Holden, he was found not guilty on all charges except for possession of a gun, which had his hand print on it. Davis and his attorneys maintained that the gun had been planted—a claim that has gained some weight in light of recent revelations that the Gun Trace Task Force carried BB guns to plant in case they ever shot the wrong person.
“We have a 100 percent admission by a former Baltimore City Police officer that guns are occasionally planted,” said Natalie Finegar, who is representing Davis, at a press conference announcing the CRB findings,
On the basis of the gun, the State’s Attorney’s Office then charged Davis with the murder of Kevin Jones, a security guard murdered outside of the Pimlico racetrack where Jones worked.
“It’s not about Keith Davis for me, it’s about Kevin Jones. That was the victim of the homicide,” State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said. “He was tried in front of his peers, a jury of his peers. And a jury of his peers determined that he was a felon in possession of a handgun. We have an independent witness, not just the police officers’ account of what took place, but an independent witness that placed him in possession of that handgun, and pointing it at the police officers. Which is probably why a jury of his peers found him guilty. That gun was tied to what is now a pending murder case.”
The first trial for the murder resulted in a hung jury. Mosby’s office brought the case again and secured a conviction, which was later overturned when it came out that the prosecutors withheld information about a jailhouse snitch who was the star witness. Davis faces a new trial on June 7, the anniversary of the day he was shot and just over two weeks before the primary election in the State’s Attorney’s race.
And despite the twists and turns of the case, Mosby’s office has maintained the facts of the initial charges—that Davis robbed the cab driver and waved a gun at police, while declining to bring any charges against the officers involved.
Finegar, a supporter of Ivan Bates, who is running against Mosby for State’s Attorney, blasted Mosby’s failure to investigate the officers. “She declined to prosecute the officers before the officers were even called upon to give their version of events to internal affairs.”
But the Civilian Review Board arrived at a far different determination of those events on June 7, 2015. “The Board sustained the allegations for the following reasons: (1) the crime lab determined that the gun was never fired and the officers’ guns account for all of the bullets fired on the scene; (2) the officers agreed to go in firing although there were no bullets being fired; (3) there was only one entrance and exit to the garage, providing ample opportunity for the officers to wait and de-escalate the situation to apprehend the complainant safely; (4) it was unclear based on the officers’ inconsistent testimonies whether the complainant had a gun; (5) there were serious discrepancies between the officers’ testimonies in court and the officers’ testimonies in the IAD report; and (6) the officers displayed a lack of credibility in their testimonies.”
These last two points should make the officers’ IAD statements, which are closely guarded in such cases, available to Davis’ defense.
“We will be requesting for full disclosure of the records that the Civilian Review Board had access to” Finegar said. “If those officers’ testimony was so inconsistent that they would be calling for the two officers to be fired, that is exculpatory information, that is information that belongs in the hands of the defense.”
Although the Consent Decree between the Baltimore Police Department and the Department of Justice calls for a stronger CRB, the board’s power to enforce its findings remains limited. Bridal Pearson, the presiding chair of the Board, wrote in an op-ed late last year that the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBoR) is largely responsible for this lack of power.
“The Bill of Rights also limits the board’s ability to subpoena the subject officer, which minimizes investigative potency in gathering and evaluating necessary information. These processes are antithetical to transparency,” she wrote, noting that because the CRB cannot see a wider range of officers’ disciplinary files, they cannot recommend progressive discipline. “In each case, we must act as if it is the officer’s first occurrence. This is a significant disservice to the community at large.”
Internal Affairs detectives have also long complained of the inability to carry out “patterns and practice” investigations that could reveal patterns of conduct.
LEOBoR allows officers involved in shootings to wait 10 days before providing a statement to investigators. In this case, they did not give formal statements to investigators for more than 90 days.
On Thursday night, the Fraternal Order of Police signed a contract with the city that prevents civilians from serving on police disciplinary trial boards and many feel that the mayor’s 2019 budget does not provide the funds needed for a robust Civilian Review Board.
But Davis’ wife, Kelly Holsey Davis, felt some sense of vindication after the Board’s ruling. “My husband is innocent,” she said at the press conference. “My husband did nothing wrong that day but survive 44 shots shot at him by four Baltimore Police Department.”