FERGUSON, MO — A man was taken to jail following a case of mistaken identity and subsequently beaten and given trumped up charges, including bleeding on the officers’ clothing as they pummeled him.
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During the early hours of September 20th, 2009, Henry M. Davis — a 52-year-old welder — was traveling along Highway 270 to St. Charles, Missouri. While driving, Mr. Davis missed his exit, and because of heavy rains pulled off the highway in nearby Ferguson.
A vigilant deputy ran his license plate at approximately 3:00 a.m. and noticed that there was a warrant out for a man named “Henry Davis.” Assuming that the driver was the same person specified in the warrant, the deputy called for backup.
Ferguson Officer John Beaird arrived on the scene, handcuffed Mr. Davis, and informed him that he was under arrest because of the outstanding warrant. The trouble was, the person listed on the warrant had a different middle initial and Social Security number than the man in custody.
The wrongful arrest should have been easy enough to clarify, and indeed, a discrepancy with the SSN and height was noticed as Mr. Davis was booked at the Ferguson Jail.
“We have a problem,” said Booking Officer Christopher Pillarick, according to Mr. Davis.
“I told you guys it wasn’t me,” Davis later testified.
Despite acknowledging that a mistake had been made, jailers did not immediately let Mr. Davis leave. At approximately 3:30 a.m., Officer Beaird ordered Mr. Davis into a small jail cell with one bad that was already occupied by another individual. Having nowhere to lay down, Davis asked for one of the mats he had seen stacked up outside the cells.
“He said I wasn’t getting one,” Davis recalled.
Alternately, Mr. Davis asked if he could be handcuffed to a bench outside the cell. That request was also denied, and was followed by a show of force because Mr. Davis was “belligerent.”
According to Mr. Davis’s lawsuit, Officer Michael White entered Cell #3 and “rushed” Davis, prompting to “put his arms up to cover up his head and duck.” The suit claims Mr. Davis was slammed into the back wall of the cell.
Officer White claims that he was struck in the face during the scuffle. He exited the cell and gave commands to Mr. Davis.
“I told the police officers there that I didn’t do nothing, ‘Why is you guys doing this to me?'” Davis testified. “They said, ‘OK, just lay on the ground and put your hands behind your back.'”
Davis complied and got down on his stomach and put his hands behind his back, the lawsuit states. Officer Kim Tihen entered the cell and straddled Mr. Davis from behind, then placed him in handcuffs.
While handcuffed, the suit alleges that “Tihen struck [Davis] in his head with a closed fist and hit [Davis] in the head with handcuffs.” Davis also received repeated blows to his body.
The assault didn’t end there. As Mr. Davis was being raised up from the floor, Officer White allegedly kicked him in the head with the toe of his boot.
Mr. Davis was bleeding profusely and had to be hospitalized. He insisted that medical staff photograph his injuries.
Mr. Davis “suffered a concussion, headaches, and severe bruising from the beating,” his lawsuit states.
Trumped Up Charges
After he was released from the hospital, Mr. Davis was returned to the jail, where he faced multiple trumped up charges. These included speeding, driving while intoxicated, no proof of insurance, failure to drive in a single lane, and failure to obey a police officer. All of these charges were later dismissed, but not before Mr. Davis spent several days in jail.
There were also four (4) counts of “property damage.” Mr. Davis had literally been charged with a crime when Officers White, Beaird, Tihen, and Pillarick claimed to have gotten blood on their uniforms during and after the beating.
Two of the sworn statements about bloody uniforms were later recanted, however, during the civil trial. These glaring acts of perjury were deemed too unimportant — “de minimis” — to warrant prosecution of the officers.
However, controversy-prone prosecutor Bob McCullouch went forward with prosecuting Mr. Davis for the last remaining two “property damage” charges that were not dismissed in court. Mr. Davis was fined $3,000.00.
With the help of his attorney, Mr. Davis filed a lawsuit against the City of Ferguson and the involved officers, citing excessive use of force.
After the lawsuit had been filed — and more than a year after the incident — Ferguson police retaliated by adding an additional charge for a felony “assault” that supposedly happened the night of September 20, 2009. This struck many as a malicious prosecution effort, given the amount of time that passed and the seriousness of the charge.
“They would have filed those charges right then and there, because that’s a major felony,” Mr. Davis stated.
When asked to provide surveillance video of the incident, Ferguson police provided a video from 12 hours after the incident, recorded at 32 times normal speed. It was “like a blur” and substantively useless.
It was also revealed that Ferguson police officers were essentially allowed to investigate themselves following excessive force claims.
The department allowed the very same officers accused of abuse to draw up the claims, said former police chief Thomas Moonier, who led FPD in 2009. “The officer himself could complete it and give it to the supervisor for his approval,” Moonier stated in a deposition.
Magistrate Judge Nannette A. Baker ultimately dismissed Mr. Davis’ claims of excessive force in March of 2014, stating:
“…as unreasonable as it may sound, a reasonable officer could have believed that beating a subdued and compliant Mr. Davis while causing only a concussion, scalp laceration, and bruising with almost no permanent damage did not violate the Constitution…The Court grants summary judgment to Defendants on Count I.”
The case is currently slated to be considered later this year by the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals.
In 2012, Kim Tihen — who allegedly beat Mr. Davis — was seated on the Ferguson City Council, and now represents Ward 1.
The town of Ferguson became nationally famous in 2014 because of a controversial FPD shooting and the subsequent protests, riots, and police response.
CASE STATUS: Davis v. White, et al