Note: Contains a description of a man being shot in the face by the police. Read at your own discretion.
When I mention One Baltimore to people, I always try to drop in that it’s a weekly column. It can be hard for me to motivate without a boss or an external deadline. At least if I’m putting an expectation out there, I can imagine people waiting, eyebrows raised, to see if I do what I said.
So far, this pace hasn’t been a problem. I draft during the week, clean it up on Friday or Saturday, and post by Sunday if not before. This is the first week I’m really struggling. Not because there’s not enough to say, but because there’s too much. How to tell Keith’s story?
I’ve tried it a few different ways. One draft is in the form of an open letter, written to any and all state and local elected representatives with whom I’m passingly familiar, in which I start out by asking –
“If I told you that I could guarantee that your presence by my side for one day could save an innocent man, would you do it? If I begged you, and swore that what I was saying was true, would that be meaningful to you?”
I might still do something like that, but for now I’m just going to commit to writing them individually before the end of the week.
In another draft, I laid it all out as if it happened to me, with no preamble, beginning –
“On the morning of Sunday, June 7, 2015, I stopped for a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store on Reisterstown Road, just above Belvedere. On my way out, as I was lighting up, I heard somebody say something about a gun. I looked up and saw a man in the alley across from me with a big silver gun in his hand, people scattering. I spun and ran, turning down a different alley.
I saw a set of open metal doors in front of me, some kind of auto garage. I ran inside and it was dark, all the lights were off. That’s when shots started ringing out, pop-pop-pop and then the ricochets. I turned and it was the police. I yelled for them to stop, but they kept firing.
A bullet tore straight through my arm, everything was heat and pain. I ducked behind an old refrigerator and used my other hand to call my girlfriend Kelly. Somehow it was the only thing I could think of to do.”
When I first considered writing about Keith in the first person as a way to get people’s attention, my heart started racing and I felt a little sick. I’ve cried some, reading about and listening to Keith’s story, but this was the first time I’d had that type of physical reaction. The idea felt too visceral, not to mention way too presumptuous.
I tried it anyway, but well, the text above is cold. Fiction is much harder for me than writing about my life, and what Keith went through isn’t close to my own experience. I’ve never even been in a fistfight. Keith was shot that day in his right cheek, his face torn open, jaw shattered, the bullet trailing metal fragments as it made its way down the side of his neck and lodged there. I’m supposed to represent how that feels?
I thought about opening with a positive, excited vibe, like – friends who are into true crime, hooo boy! If you’ve enjoyed Serial or Making a Murderer, if you like twists and turns, courtroom drama and villainous officials, this one’s for you! Friends eager for a chance to get involved in something that really matters, who love Baltimore and are sick to the death of the corruption and lies, now’s your chance to help expose the very worst of it!
None of that’s untrue, but it’s also way far from where my emotions are at right now. I want to be truthful in this space.
So let me just lay it out plainly –
An armed robber tried to hijack a hack (unlicensed taxi) one morning in June 2015 in Park Heights, in northwest Baltimore City. The hack driver happened to pull up to an intersection where two cops were present, and jumped out, flagging them down. The robber fled, causing panic and confusion. The cops chased the wrong guy.
There is no doubt that Keith is not the robber. The hack driver’s description of the man who stuck him up is in almost every respect different from how Keith looked – different age, different hair, different skin tone, tatts vs. no tatts, different clothes, etc. The driver could not pick Keith out of a lineup, and said plainly in court that Keith didn’t look like his assailant to him.
Keith just happened to catch the eye of the cops at the exact wrong moment in relation to where they thought the robber had gone. Assuming they thought at all. I don’t know. When my cat, Spooky, is hyped up, he’ll twitch his paw out and strike at anything in his field of vision that moves. Maybe it was more like that.
Backup was right around the corner. Two more cops rolled up within a minute, and more after that, though only the first four shot their guns. They would say later that Keith had been shooting at them, and in fact the state charged him for that crime… despite the fact that the ballistics evidence showed that the only bullets fired had come from the cops themselves, forcing them to drop that charge.
It’s totally plausible that, in the moment, once the first officer fired the first time, the cops thought that they WERE in a firefight. Their own bullet casings would’ve been crashing loudly against the metal bay doors and concrete floor, echoing in the dark open space of the garage, and their sirens still wailed, making everything more confusing.
They shot him at him wildly, blindly, 30 or 40 times (initial reports said 44, later ballistics results suggested 32), tearing three holes in him, lodging that one bullet in his neck. He fell unconscious and dropped his phone, cutting out on the confused and frightened Kelly, who called him back over and over, with no answer.
The cops searched him, cuffed him. They called for a medic but entered it as a non-serious injury. Then they sat around and talked.
When the medics arrived, they saw Keith in a large pool of his own blood, face shredded, and called for backup, realizing they needed much more help to save his life. .. which, miraculously, they succeeded in doing. They got him stabilized and rushed him to Sinai Hospital, where the doctors cleaned out and stapled up his face, wiring shut his jaw. The bullet stayed in place for the time being – he was too fragile to risk a second surgery yet, it would have to come out in the following weeks.
Except that it didn’t. The bullet wouldn’t come out for another two years, because Keith was going to jail, to be held without bail for years, and the state would fight his treatment every step of the way.
The cops were at Keith’s bedside when he woke up, guarding him, not letting anyone in at first. A week into his recovery, they took him down to Central Booking, wearing nothing but his hospital gown. When his loved ones called, they were told he was being charged with 16 counts related to robbing the hack driver and shooting at the police.
It turned out that the cops had produced a gun which they said he’d been brandishing at them. It was unloaded, hadn’t been fired during the incident, and had never in any way been attached to Keith. But hey, it’s not like Baltimore police would plant guns (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/baltimore-police-carried-bb-guns-plant-unarmed-suspects-shooting-victims-corruption-maurice-ward-a8189731.html), certainly not to shut up someone they’d harmed (https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8xvzwp/baltimore-cops-carried-toy-guns-to-plant-on-people-they-shot-trial-reveals-vgtrn).
The trial was a joke, the officers contradicting each other, the evidence, and their previous sworn statements left and right (https://audioboom.com/posts/7253094-state-v-keith-davis-jr-episode-3-the-devil-is-in-the-details). The jury cleared Keith of all charges but one – being a felon in possession of a handgun, a mandatory five-year sentence.
But why settle for five when you can go for fifty? For their next trick, the cops said the gun was connected to a murder which had happened several hours before, so the state charged him with that. Keith had never met the man, and nothing put him at the scene of the crime, but who needs a motive or evidence, right?
The first murder trial resulted in a hung jury, 11 not guilty to 1 guilty. According to the other eleven jurors, the twelfth seemed to believe that it was the defense’s job to prove Keith’s innocence, and could not be dissuaded from this idea.
The state retried the case. They now had a witness to call, a fellow prisoner to whom Keith had supposedly confessed. The jury found Keith guilty, but the sentence was overturned when it was shown that the informant couldn’t have ever come into contact with Keith, and was also testifying in all sorts of trials in exchange for a reduced sentence (https://therealnews.com/columns/keith-davis-jr-may-face-fourth-trial-for-the-murder-of-kevin-jones-following-mistrial).
The case should have been dropped then, but instead the machine rumbled onwards. Keith’s third murder trial resulted in another hung jury. But this time a new piece of evidence surfaced – security camera footage from right before the murder, showing another man, with a different build, pulling up a mask over his face and moving towards the victim before they both go off-frame (https://baltimorefishbowl.com/stories/video-shown-during-keith-davis-jr-s-third-trial-suggests-other-suspect-says-davis-lawyer/). The state had withheld this footage from the defense for years.
Keith’s fourth trial for murder, fifth overall in five years, is now coming up on Friday, July 12th at the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse downtown at 100 N. Calvert at 9am (https://www.facebook.com/events/281353249417978/). It is clear that justice will not come on its own. We need to show that people are watching, and we need to take note of what occurs.
I don’t know how to get through to people about this case. When I mention it, I see wariness and weariness – one more depressing story of injustice in a town full of them, one more psychic burden to bear. But this travesty unfolding in front of us, it’s everything. I feel sure of that.
Oh, did I mention that one of the officers who shot Keith is now under federal investigation for drug trafficking (https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/crime/109727460-132.html)?
Go here to support Keith and Kelly Davis, the woman I mentioned who was on the phone with him that day, now his wife, who has courageously led the fight to clear his name these four long years: https://fundrazr.com/FreeKeithDavisJr
Cultural Event of the Week:
Bedlam Brass is a pure and strange delight, an 11-piece brass band made up of wildly talented and playful musicians. This Tuesday night 6/18 at 6:30, they’re holding a potluck and practice in Wyman Park Dell and inviting the public to join them!
Green Event of the Week:
There’s a new monthly farmer’s market in town, with a beautiful lakeside view! The next Market at Montebello is this Saturday, 6/22 from 9am-2pm, with a free yoga class, a cooking demo, and a composting demo scheduled throughout the day.
Song of the Week: “Mathematics” by Mos Def
Stiffer stipulations attached to each sentence / Budget cutbacks but increased police presence / And even if you get out of prison still living / Join the other five million under state supervision / This is business, no faces just lines and statistics / From your phone, your zip code, to S-S-I digits / The system break man child and women into figures / Two columns for who is, and who ain’t n****s