Dumb Luck Or a Cover-Up: Day one of trial number four for Keith Davis Jr.

A “Free Keith Davis Jr.” banner from a rally for Davis / Photo by Tedd Henn.

Police officer Paul Heffernan, on patrol in the Park Heights neighborhood, was overseeing a vehicle being towed at 4:53 a.m. on June 7, 2015, so he couldn’t respond to a dispatcher’s announcement that there had been four or five gunshots near Park Heights Ave. and Belvedere Ave. Heffernan had to finish the call he was on before moving to another, that’s just how it works he said, and everybody else on duty in the district was already assigned to calls too, so whoever got shot would have to wait.

When Heffernan arrived at the scene of the shooting, he was with his sergeant and they found, after some searching around, security guard Kevin Jones curled up in the fetal position on the Pimlico Race Course parking lot, dead. It was about 20 minutes after the shooting. Jones didn’t look like he was moving or breathing though Heffernan didn’t check a pulse or anything—he wasn’t supposed to render aid, you called a medic for that, though he didn’t call a medic at all. Besides, he couldn’t have rendered aid anyway because the 20-year police veteran wasn’t trained to render aid.

Kevin Jones, 22 years old, security guard at Pimlico Racetrack had been shot 11 times, including a kill shot to the top of the forehead and one that hit him between his lip and nose, broke his teeth apart, and ended up in his stomach. With some of his last breaths, he ended up swallowing that bullet.

A few hours later, around 10 a.m., Baltimore police officers Lane Eskins, Catherine Filippou, and Alfred Santiago chased Keith Davis Jr. into a garage in Park Heights because they believed he was a suspect in a robbery. Davis has said he was walking in the area, on the phone, and ran because the police were running his way not because he had done anything wrong.  This was just a few months after police chased Freddie Gray just for looking at them, after all.

In the garage where Davis was cornered, Eskins, Filippou, and Santiago fired at Davis more than 40 times, hitting him a few times and arresting him after, they say, he placed his gun and wallet on a refrigerator and tried to crawl away. Davis was taken to the hospital and hit with a number of charges related to the gun. More than a year after Davis was found guilty on a single charge for gun possession, he was charged with the murder of Jones because the gun found on Davis was linked back to the shell casings found around Jones’ body.

This was all newly revealed or reiterated Tuesday, the first day of the fourth trial for Keith Davis Jr. charged with the murder of Kevin Jones, which has become an activist cause, a minor media event complete with its own deep dive podcast (full disclosure, I was interviewed for the podcast at length), and a saga piling twist on top of twist, which include, as the Beat and elsewhere have reported: a drunk-driving Assistant State’s Attorney; a star witness jailhouse snitch; the last minute appearance of security camera footage of another potential suspect (or the state claimed, of Davis) moments before Jones’ murder; and as of yesterday, disappearing and reappearing cell phones that belonged to Jones that a homicide detective held onto for almost a year, a few witnesses no one has heard from, and inevitably, even more evidence of a police department in disarray.

According to the state, Davis’ arrest for Jones’ death was “a series of random events,” Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Seidel said during opening arguments. Then he clarified that “a series of random events” was “a fancy legal term for luck.”

“This person shot and killed a 22 year-old man who was walking to work, in the most brutal way you can imagine,” Seidel said pointing to Davis Jr.

For the defense’s Deborah Levi—a dogged public defender going after police corruption for years and leading the effort to overturn Gun Trace Task Force-related victims’ cases—it was “a poor police investigation” that eventually included “planted evidence,” a desperate response to the intense scrutiny in the months after the Baltimore Uprising where the shooting of an unarmed man would have potentially caused another uprising and so, police dropped a gun on Davis Jr. (The Baltimore Sun has reported that one of the officers chasing Davis that day, Filippou is no longer with the department and was federally investigated for dealing drugs).

There were “two victims,” Levi told the jury: Kevin Jones, shot 11 times and killed by someone still out there who was absolutely not Keith Davis Jr. and Davis Jr. himself, the victim of an elaborate cover up and merciless prosecution by the State’s Attorney’s Office.

Dumb luck or corruption—neither explanation is particularly kind to the Baltimore Police Department.