What Happens When You Survive a Police Shooting in Baltimore?

© Provided by Guardian News Keith Davis in the hospital.
© Provided by Guardian News Keith Davis in the hospital.

On 7 June 2015, Baltimore was still reeling from the unrest that had put thousands of citizens at odds with battalions of police dressed in riot gear in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray. May had been the city’s most violent month since the 1970s. More than 40 people had been murdered in the city and more than 100 others non-fatally shot in the month since the hopeful day when state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby told the city that she felt its pain as she announced she would press charges against the officers tied to Gray’s death in the back of a police van. 

Residents and police alike were expressing confusion and fear, as some claimed officers were in the middle of a “slowdown” in retaliation against city leadership. So when reports of a shoot-out between a suspect and officers came out, no one was surprised – or particularly outraged. The local newspaper ran a story based on the police reports, which said that the man, Keith Davis Jr, had robbed an unlicensed cab driver with a pistol and fled from the police to a garage, where he refused to give up his weapon and was shot at numerous times before being hit in the arm and the face and surrendering.

But unlike many victims of police shootings, Davis lived to provide his own account of what happened that morning – he says he didn’t have a gun and was misidentified as the suspect. He is now fighting criminal charges against him and has been in jail awaiting trial for more than 200 days, while nursing his gunshot wounds behind bars.

As the Guardian’s The Counted has reported, more than 1,130 people were killed by police in 2015. But there are others who, like Davis, are shot or otherwise injured by police and survive.

Davis was the first person to be shot by police after Freddie Gray died in police custody in April. And whether or not Davis committed crimes that day remains in dispute. But local activist groups have taken up Davis’s case, holding demonstrations and protests at Mosby’s office.

“This is what would have happened to Freddie Gray if he had lived,” a demonstrator said to passersby.


When Davis walked into a packed courtroom for trial wearing a jumpsuit and chains, the bullet that went into his face was still clearly visible as a large lump in the back of his neck.

“I still have a bullet in my neck,” he said later in a telephone interview from jail. “It’s really a fight just to get what you’re supposed to have. It’s not like having a doctor at home, even the medicine they give you is not up to par. They told me there’s nothing they can do about the pain in my neck, they told me there’s nothing we can do about that.”

Davis is facing 16 charges, including attempted armed robbery, firearms use, discharging firearms, handgun on person, first and second degree assault and reckless endangerment. On 3 December, the state brought a new case relating to the same incident against Davis, charging him as a felon in possession of a firearm.

Davis’ trial has already been postponed three times, the third time because he was arranged on new charges. His lawyer, Latoya Francis-Williams, says the prosecutor’s office has failed to supply her with information she requested in discovery, such as statements from the shooting officers.

As a result of the postponements, Davis has been in jail without a trial for more than 200 days, far beyond the 180 days allowed by Maryland law for a speedy trial. His lawyer says she just wants to give her client his day in court.

There are competing narratives about what happened the morning Davis was shot. The police say that he got into the car of an unlicensed cab driver and tried to rob him with a pistol and fled from officers into an auto garage wielding a gun. From inside the garage Davis kept pointing the gun at officers who opened fire on him.

Davis says he was never in the car and did not have a gun. He thinks the officers mistook his cellphone for a gun and shot him as a result of the mistake.

His girlfriend Kelly Holsey says she was on the phone with Davis the night of the incident, and has enlisted anti-police brutality group Baltimore Bloc in a vigorous movement to see him freed.

“Bloc takes a lot of leadership from the families directly,” said Payam Sohrabi, a member of Baltimore Bloc. “Kelly is a fighter who has been speaking out since the beginning by herself. That’s how we found her and so we have been working to support her and Keith ever since.”

According to Holsey and Bloc, the fault is the case now lies with Marilyn Mosby, who garnered national attention when she brought charges against the six officers allegedly involved in the death of Freddie Gray. But in this case, her office offered letters of declination clearing the officers of any criminal charges – and her office has failed to provide statements from any of the shooting officers to the defense so that Davis can exercise his constitutional right to confront his accusers.

“Marilyn Mosby stood on the war memorial steps just six months ago with so much fire, so much passion, so much determination, yet we have not heard or seen from her in this situation,” said Holsey at a rally on the morning of Davis’s November trial date. “She aggressively went after protesters more than she’s gone after these police officers. I was one of the people who thought that she was for justice and for fairness. She is not.”

Reporting by the Baltimore Sun has shown how rare it is for police to be charged in shooting incidents in Baltimore, noting of the 67 police-involved deaths since 2006, only two officers faced criminal charges, prior to the six indicted for Gray’s death. There is no comprehensive data for non-fatal encounters such as Davis’s but the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights gives extra protections to officers involved in such incidents, shielding them, for instance, from having to give statements for up to ten days.

And in many big cities with high crime rates, it is also common for suspects in Baltimore to remain in jail beyond the 180-day limit required by the Maryland law often called the Hicks rule.

“The only guy that’s ever benefited from a Hicks motion is a guy named Hicks,” said Todd Oppenheim, a public defender and candidate for circuit court judge for Baltimore city. “Hicks rights are violated all the time, but judges can justify it by finding good cause. Good cause is subjective.”

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Source: The Guardian | Baynard Woods in Baltimore