By Baynard Woods and Brandon Soderberg
In April 2010, Umar Burley crashed into Elbert Davis while being chased by police, who then planted drugs on him. Davis died and Burley was charged with his death and drug trafficking. But today, Burley he was freed from all charges relating to the incident when his defense and the State’s Attorney’s Office filed a joint motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
Burley has been in jail in 2011. The trafficking charges were dropped after the revelation that the drugs were planted but he still faced manslaughter charges related to 86 year-old Davis’ death.
Tony Gioia of the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office observed that Burley, who entered a plea agreement in 2011, would not have done so given the information about the drugs being planted. Additionally, Gioia said they cannot retry the case without the officers involved, which includes federally convicted GTTF member Wayne Jenkins and slain detective Sean Suiter. The SAO dropped all charges.
“Our office determined that unlawful actions by BPD officers led to the accident and subsequent 2010 conviction of Mr. Umar Burley,” State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement. “Today, under my direction, we filed a joint motion with Mr. Burley to withdraw his guilty plea related to the death of the 87 year old victim. We have spoken to the victim’s family and will remain supportive through their sorrow and stay committed to applying justice fairly and equally.”
Burley’s case became higher-profile last year when detective Sean Suiter was murdered, the day before he was supposed to testify about the Burley matter. On the day of Davis’ death, Suiter had been working with Wayne Jenkins, the indicted supervisor of the Gun Trace Task Force. Shortly after the police commissioner announced that Suiter had been planning to testify, the U.S. Attorney’s office indicted Jenkins on additional charges related to the chase of Burley. According to the indictment, Jenkins, Ryan Guinn, and Sean Suiter pulled up on Burley and Brent Matthews and began to chase them. Burley thought he was being robbed. When he ran into a car going through an intersection, Jenkins called a sergeant, who has still not been identified, to bring drugs to plant in the car.
“There were no drugs in the car driven by U.B. prior to the crash,” the federal indictment reads. After the crash, Jenkins told Det. Guinn to “call a Sergeant who was not at the scene because he had the ‘stuff’ or ‘shit’ in his car.”
At least one of the officers related to the Burley incident, Sgt. Ryan Guinn, remains on the police force.
“If he was properly involved, it doesn’t sit well with me at all. My life was affected by this and I’ll never be able to relive or be the same again but he gets to continue on at his job and continue on in his life like nothing happened and that’s not fair at all,” Burley said outside the courthouse.
Vacating Burley’s manslaughter charge also raises the question of who is responsible for Davis’ death. Burley’s attorney Steve Silverman blames it on the police.
“When you think about it these officers should be charged with felony murder. They committed a robbery, first degree assault and they’ve been doing it time and time again and during the process of the commission of that crime, an innocent bystander, Mr. Davis, was killed,” Silverman said. “If this were a stickup of a Burger King and somebody drove the getaway car and killed someone, they would be charged with first degree murder and it’s just incredulous to me that no one from the State’s Attorney’s Office has even considered that.”
“The Baltimore Police are partly responsible for the death of Mr. Elbert Davis Sr. They were under color of law,” said Judson Lipowitz, a lawyer for the Davis family, who says he has filed suit against the police department, the mayor, and the City Council. Lipowitz does not entirely free Burley from responsibility however, and noted that Burley did indeed flee from police which lead to the accident that killed Davis—“[Burley] elected not to answer a complaint served on him,” Lipowitz said, referencing a case in which the survivors of the car crash Burley was involved in sued him successfully for a million dollars.
Mr. Davis’ son, Albert Cain, however, shook Burley’s hand as he walked out of the courtroom.
“I’m glad Umar got the justice he deserved,” Cain said. “But I lost my father.”
“I’ve lost practically everything behind this. I’ve lost time I’ll never get back. And they’ve totally destroyed my life up to this point,” Burley said. “Even to this point I still feel that nothing has changed.”