By Baynard Woods
A Baltimore jury convicted Keith Davis Jr. for the murder of Kevin Jones on Tuesday evening, after only a couple hours of deliberation in a case full of police irregularities.
Davis, a focal point of the city’s activist community, was the first person to be shot by Baltimore Police in June 2015, following the in-custody death of Freddie Gray that rocked the city with protests. Davis was initially acquitted of all but one of the charges against him—but that one charge, police said, tied him to Jones’ murder.
Police claimed that Davis hijacked an unlicensed cab, driven by a man named Charles Holden, who then pulled up beside a police car, causing the gunman to flee. Two officers chased the man who fled the car on foot and eventually cornered Davis in a garage, where they, and other officers who had since arrived on the scene, fired more than 40 shots at him. At the time, they claimed that Davis fired at them, a claim later retracted.
When Davis, who was on his cellphone with his fiancée Kelly Holsey throughout the ordeal, was hit by three bullets he fell to the ground. Police later claimed that they found a gun and Davis’ wallet on top of a refrigerator inside the garage.
The police story did not stand up. “To my recollection that don’t look like him to me,” Holden, the primary witness, said in court.
Another witness, Martina Washington, who was in the garage when Davis ran in, testified that police had influenced her description of the man who entered the garage. “They keep saying all the stuff to you and telling you what they want you to say,” she said. “They was telling me ‘is the guy light-skinned? Was the guy light-skinned?’… That’s why I said ‘Yeah.’ I’m trying to get out of here.”
Washington also testified that she was almost shot by officers who fired into the dark garage. “As I was running out the police lady, she had her gun… she shot. It’s not like she shot at me. She shot around me or something,” Washington said in an initial interview with police.
“I just remember a lot of shots,” Davis told me in his only interview from jail. “I remember being shot in the arm. That’s when I called Kelly and I shouted and I figured somebody would help. I kept saying ‘I don’t have nothing I don’t have nothing’ and they just kept shooting. I called Kelly and said ‘the police trying to kill me.’”
The officers involved in the shooting—Santiago, Eskins, Filippou, and Lopez—did not give a statement to investigators for more than six months after the incident and in court gave wildly inconsistent statements.
Davis was facing 16 charges. He maintained that he was walking down the street listening to music when the police began to chase him. “They just centered on me. When they ran towards the crowd everybody kind of broke away from the crowd and ran in a direction,” he said. “I wasn’t even the only one that ran in that direction but they ended up chasing me.”
He was ultimately acquitted on all of those charges but one—a prohibited person possessing a firearm and received five years. The gun had his partial palm print and the jury could not get over that, it seemed.
But immediately after the verdict, he was charged with the murder of Jones earlier on the same day. The state said that ballistics tests prove that the gun found in the garage where Davis was shot was the one used to kill Jones, a security guard at the Pimlico race track.
Davis was charged with first degree murder, second degree murder, and using a firearm in commission of a violent crime. An earlier trial on the same charges came back with a hung jury.
Although Davis had not been convicted of robbing the cabdriver, who said he was not the man who robbed him, the prosecution was allowed to present the allegations of the earlier case as fact—while the defense was prohibited from telling the jury he had been found not guilty.
The case, like many in Baltimore, hinged partly on how willing the jury was to trust members of a deeply troubled police department. At the same time that Davis was being tried for murder, a drug trial detailed the role of a police officer, Detective Momodu Gondo, in protecting an alleged heroin ring. Gondo is one of eight members of a Gun Trace Task Force that have been federally indicted on racketeering and other charges.
The city has also been stunned by recent incidents in which officers appeared to accidentally film themselves planting drugs with their body cameras.
Latoya Francis-Williams, Davis’ attorney, pointed out that none of the officers who testified could account for what they did immediately after shooting Davis and said it would take “no effort when those officers were milling around” to put his palm print on the gun. “The only thing Mr. Davis did on June 6, 2015, is that he survived a police shooting,” she said.
But, as in the first case, the prints—and perhaps the DNA—weighed more heavily than potential police misconduct.
“Another innocent man has been convicted of a crime he did not commit in Baltimore City,” said the activist group Baltimore Bloc in a statement. “How? By allowing the State to argue over and over that Keith Davis Jr. committed an armed robbery but not allow[ing] his defense to clarify that he was already acquitted of these charges.”
“We will definitely note Mr. Davis’ appeal on account of numerous rulings, including admissibility of certain evidence, which we believe were in error and contributed to the outcome,” Francis-Williams told the Real News after the verdict.