Keith Davis Jr and The Convenience of Criminality

Photo of Keith Davis Jr

The case against Keith Davis Jr. is entangled in Baltimore politics and political allegiances. What has happened in these last five years has been on par with the neoliberal democratic misleadership engulfing the city.⁣

Keith Davis Jr. should not have survived on the morning of June 7th, 2015.  Assumed to be a hack thief, a case of mistaken identity led four Baltimore police officers to corner Davis Jr. into a dark garage after an on-foot chase in West Baltimore. Those four officers let off up to 44 rounds of bullets in that garage, resulting in Davis Jr. being shot three times—- one bullet busting through his sinus cavity, shattering his jawbone into fragments. That shot into his face was the last thing his partner, Kelly Davis, heard while on the phone with him as he frantically told her he was going to die. But he did not die. For the next five years, Davis Jr would be persecuted for surviving.  

The first Baltimore police-involved incident since the murder of Freddie Gray in April of that same year, Davis Jr. had a much different fate. Managing to survive a BPD murder attempt, he was taken to the hospital while unconscious, in critical condition, and handcuffed. He underwent emergency surgery for the multiple comminuted fractures that were the result of being shot 3 times. Following the surgery, he was sent to jail and would eventually be charged with the murder of security officer Kevin Jones. 

While a jury acquitted Davis Jr. of the robbery accusation and other charges, he was convicted of possessing a gun, which hadn’t been fired but was found on top of the refrigerator he was hiding behind while being shot at. The conviction was a discrepancy brought on by a previous felony conviction— he was legally not supposed to be in the same space as a gun. None of the four officers involved were ever charged for the shooting of Davis Jr., but Davis Jr. would instead spend the next five years fighting a murder charge predicated by the gun found that had no evidence of ever being fired yet was said to have been used in the murder of the security officer. 

There have been FIVE court hearings, four for the murder accusation, despite hung juries resulting in mistrials. Davis Jr. is the second person in this country’s history to be tried in a courtroom multiple times for the exact same case. Each new trial brought new evidence, which called into question both police testimony and prosecutorial conduct in the case. To sit in the courtroom during each trial was to be astonished in disbelief. Witness descriptions did not match, cops’ courtroom descriptions of the gun Davis Jr. allegedly used to murder Jones (and other statements) did not match. There was no substantial DNA evidence and the prosecutor, Patrick Seidel, even argued against the validity of DNA as evidence. During the rebuttal closing, where a sensationalized motive for the murder was made that was not offered during the trial, Seidel claimed that fingerprints are far more reliable. 

Among those aforementioned courtroom revelations were other gems like learning the gun allegedly used by Davis Jr. was purchased in a gun consignment shop cops in the city frequent. Also, defense attornies discovered the bullets from the gun in question were missing from the evidence room. To top it all off, lead firearms examiner, James Wagster, who ‘eyeballs’ evidence and testifies on ballistic tool mark evidence in countless cases prosecuted by the Baltimore SAO is legally blind. All of these things brought up during motions hearings and during the trial were overruled and dismissed by judges, including Honorable Judge Sylvester Cox, who did not want to set a precedent that would open the floodgates for retrials. Davis Jr. was subsequently found guilty and convicted of second-degree murder in July. 

The case of Keith Davis Jr. illuminates the politics that surrounds a Black and democratically led city like Baltimore. Recently, headlines erupted over the sentencing of former Mayor Catherine Pugh, whose pay-for-play scheme through the sale of her ‘Healthy Holly’ books directly confronts the validity of “our faces” in these spaces. There is a delusion that exists around how Black politicians, Black cops and, most recently, Black prosecutors are seen as a solvent to systematic racial injustice. But as Baltimore City has shown, that is nothing more than nice imagery. Imagery over substance is most notable with Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. 

Photo of Baltimore City State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby

The daughter of corrupt and negligent Boston cops, Alan James and Linda Thompson, Mosby catapulted into national fame with the very public indictments that followed the murder of Freddie Gray. A mistrial and three acquittals later, Mosby eventually dropped the charges against ALL remaining officers in Gray’s case. 

While many champion Mosby for her brave efforts in seeking justice for Freddie Gray, the truth is Mosby used the indictments as a way to silence a city in mourning and to tame the uprising that had taken place after Gray’s death that was met with extreme militarized police forces. The city was in shambles and Mosby’s role was to calmly put the Black community back in line with the justice system. Despite never getting any police accountability for the murder of Gray, Mosby’s “unapologetic” prosecution of the officers in Gray’s case placed her name in the recently emerging rhetoric of  the “progressive prosecutor.” 

Meme image displaying the difference between William Porter and Keith Davis Jr trials

The illusion of “progressive prosecutor” is torn apart by Mosby and her State’s Attorney’s Office’s relentless pursuit of Davis Jr. Despite her national image, Mosby protects and works alongside the Baltimore police department. After all, as a prosecutor, it is her job. The Baltimore SAO, under Mosby, knowingly permitted the now-imprisoned members of the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) to operate their criminal enterprise.  Since the victims of the GTTF have come forward to place blame at Mosby’s feet, she has issued statements condemning the officers involved and most recently released plans to throw out nearly 800 convictions involving the GTTF. 

However, Mosby’s five-year refusal to drop the charges against Davis Jr. ignores that one of the cops who shot Davis Jr. in that garage, Catherine Filippou, has been under investigation by the FBI, alongside the GTTF. Now resigned, Filippou has been under investigation for alleged involvement in drug trafficking — an investigation that seemingly disappeared from the headlines with no resolve.

Filippou testified against Davis in February 2016. It was that conviction on a single gun possession charge, a gun Filippou testified to Davis Jr. having, that led to him being charged with the murder of Jones the following week. The State’s only link between Davis Jr. and the murder of Jones is that gun. A gun that Davis Jr. has always insisted was planted. Filippou was also the first officer to respond to the police shooting of Jawan Richards, which occurred seven months after shooting Davis Jr., one month before she lied about that shooting in the garage during the first trial and all while she was allegedly trafficking drugs.

Detective Mark Veney has a long and questionable history as an officer in Baltimore city. As lead detective on this case, he was found by the defense to have been tampering with evidence. Davis Jr.’s cell phone was submitted to the Evidence Control Unit (ECU) by a patrol officer named Sean Marsh, but somehow the evidence tag was inexplicably filled out by Detective Veney, who had no reason to be handling it on the days in question. Davis Jr’s conviction was based on cell phone records that allegedly placed him in the area of the crime. 

The phone dump for Davis Jr’s cellphone shows dozens of modifications and deletions after it was taken into custody by police, coincidentally on dates Detective Veney had access to them. Not to mention his misleading the courts about the number of phones owned by Jones and recovered by the BPD in the three previous trials. These were things known by the States Attorney’s office but only brought up in court by Davis Jr. ‘s defense attorneys. 

In Mosby’s SAO’s pursuit for justice against crooked cops, the crooked cops on cases the office handles are not held to any standard of accountability. They aren’t even so much as listed in Mosby’s “crackdown” despite all of the obvious reasons they should be investigated. 

Where is the accountability for Mosby? She has been able to fly under the radar on both a local and national level using Black Girl Magic, weaponizing representation and social justice jargon for the last five years, making promises to communities and families, like the family of Tyrone West, that she has been unable to keep. Local activists with their own eyes on political positioning in the city have failed to challenge her. 

Mosby’s refusal to drop the charges against Davis Jr. in a backward pursuit of justice for the family of Kevin Jones has resulted in the persecution of an innocent man to save her own failing record as a “progressive prosecutor”. Having run on fighting the good fight for justice, Mosby has instead made her fight for justice the railroading of innocent people in Baltimore. 

On March 2, 2020, Keith Davis Jr. was sentenced to 50 years for a murder he did not commit. 

Photo of Keith Davis Jr’s wife, Kelly, and their four children

Listen to the incredible investigative reporting on the case of Keith Davis Jr., including courtroom audio from the trials, on the Undisclosed Podcast episodes: State v Keith Davis Jr 

#FreeKeithDavisJr Till It’s Backwards! 

Photo of Kelly Davis and supporters disrupting Baltimore City Council President debate

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Erica Caines is a poet, writer and organizer in Baltimore and the DMV. She is an organizing committee member of the anti war coalition, the Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black centered Ujima People’s Progress Party. Caines founded Liberation Through Reading in 2017 as a way to provide Black children with books that represent them and created the extension, a book club entitled Liberation Through Reading BC, to strengthen political education online and in our communities.