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Larry Davis (criminal)

Larry Davis (May 28 1966February 20 2008), who changed his name to Adam Abdul-Hakeem in 1989, was a New Yorker who shot six New York City police officers on November 19, 1986 when they raided his sister's Bronx apartment. The police said that the raid was executed in order to question Davis about the killing of four suspected drug dealers. At trial, Davis's defense attorneys claimed that the raid was staged to murder him because of his knowledge of the involvement of corrupt police in the drug business. With the help of family contacts and street friends, he eluded capture for the next 17 days despite a massive manhunt. Once the search was narrowed to a single building, he took several hostages but surrendered to police when the presence of reporters assured him that he would not be harmed. Davis was acquitted of attempted murder charges in the police shootout case, and was acquitted of murder charges in the case involving the slain drug dealers. He was found guilty of weapons possession in the shootout case, acquitted in another murder case, and was found guilty in a later murder case and was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison. In 2008, Davis was stabbed to death in a fight with another inmate.

The Larry Davis case generated controversy. Many were outraged by his actions and acquittal, but others regarded him as a folk hero for his ability to elude capture in the massive manhunt, or as the embodiment of a community's frustration with the police, or as "a symbol of resistance" because "he fought back at a time when African-Americans were being killed by white police officers."

Background

Davis was sought as a suspect in seven murders: the execution-style killing of four drug dealers in a Bronx apartment, another during an apparent drug robbery in Manhattan, and two more. During the weeks before the raid, he knew he was wanted by the police and avoided his own apartment, spending time at his girlfriend's and at his two sisters' adjoining apartments on Fulton Avenue. At age 20, Davis had a record of arrests and convictions dating back to early 1983 and had violated his probation for a 1984 robbery.

Acting on a tip, in the evening of Wednesday November 19, 1986 a team of 27 officers and detectives from the Bronx 41st Precinct and the NYPD's elite Emergency Service Unit assembled in a parking lot. Wearing bulletproof vests and armed with shotguns and handguns, they went to the six-story Fulton Avenue building where two of Davis's sisters had adjoining apartments on the ground floor.

Raid and escape

At about 8:30 p.m. 15 officers surrounded the building and 12 others entered; nine of these went to the three-room apartment of Davis's sister Regina Lewis and seven entered it. Davis, his girlfriend, his sister and her husband were in the apartment along with four children. Lewis's two infant children were asleep in the bedroom at the rear.

According to an interview with Regina Lewis the next day, she answered a knock at the door and the police entered the living room with guns drawn. They told the adults to get the children out, and called out "Come out, Larry, you don't have a chance - we've got you surrounded." Thinking the police were about to start firing, Lewis shouted "Don't shoot! My babies are back there!" At trial, accounts would differ as to whether Davis or the police fired first. From the darkened bedroom Davis fired a 16-gauge sawn-off shotgun and a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol, wounding six of the seven officers in the living room, two seriously. The police took cover, returning fire as they retreated. In the confusion no one kept track of Davis, who slipped into his other sister's apartment and escaped out a back window.

Police collected the shotgun and the expended shells from the .45-caliber pistol that Davis took with him. A .32-caliber revolver and .357 Magnum pistol were also left behind. Ballistics tests would later link the .32-caliber revolver to the Manhattan drug dealer killing and the .45 caliber pistol to the four dead Bronx dealers. In the interview with Regina Lewis, she said that she had complained to her brother about him bringing guns to the apartment and told him to get out; he did leave but returned. She also quoted him as telling her, "If I'm caught in the street, the police are going to shoot me. But I am going to shoot them first."

A police official said that all escape routes had been covered by officers but none apparently saw Davis leave. He also said that the wounded officers were unable to return fire effectively due to the presence in the apartment of the two infants and other bystanders. Davis fired four shotgun blasts and nine .45 caliber pistol shots; the police fired four shotgun blasts and 20 pistol shots. Neither Davis nor the two infants with him in the bedroom were wounded.

The following year, three of the wounded officers accused the NYPD of "negligent" and "reckless" planning and execution of the raid, and blamed the Bronx detectives for creating "chaos" by bursting into the apartment before Emergency Service Unit officers could seal off escape routes.

Search and capture

The six wounded officers were carried across the street to the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital and the manhunt began. The surrounding area and the rest of the building were searched immediately. Police stakeouts were set up at terminals, bridges and tunnels leading out of the city and a nationwide alarm was issued. As the manhunt spread, raids were staged in Chicago, Albany, Newark and other cities where Davis had relatives or friends. A man who said he was Davis called ABC-TV, expressing fears he would be beaten by police and stating he would not be taken alive.

Acting on a tip that Davis had been seen entering his mother's home four days after the escape, police searched the building while interviewing Mary Davis in a laundromat across the street. She suffered an apparent heart attack shortly thereafter. As she recuperated three days later, she urged her son to call the NAACP, who had offered to help arrange a safe surrender.

Davis was the youngest of 15 children.

On the afternoon of December 5 1986 police received a tip that Davis had been seen entering the Bronx housing project where his sister Margaret lived. They surrounded the 14-story building, closed off local streets and posted sharpshooters on nearby rooftops. After searching his sister's second-floor apartment, police began a systematic canvass of all 312 units. During the afternoon, Davis forced his way into a family's 14th-floor apartment just as a neighbor and her son arrived, holding both families at gunpoint for several hours. After threatening the safety of the four remaining hostages, at 11:45 p.m. Davis released the two visitors and sent the hostage husband out to pick up food from a nearby Chinese restaurant. He also ordered the husband to call his mother's and sister's tapped telephones and give false location information. When the husband returned with the food he was stopped for questioning by the police and informed them that his wife and two daughters were being held.

Police set up a command post in a nearby apartment and by 1:30 a.m. had established telephone contact. At one point Davis threatened to kill the hostages with a hand grenade, at other points he chatted with negotiators about stereo equipment, asked about a lawyer and showed concern for his own safety, saying that he was afraid police would harm him. Throughout, negotiators repeated "There is no use running, you have nowhere to hide now."

To assure Davis that he would not be harmed, police showed him the press credentials of three reporters in a nearby apartment and allowed him to speak to his girlfriend. At about 7 a.m. Larry Davis laid down his .45-caliber pistol and surrendered. As he was taken from the building in handcuffs, residents leaned out of their windows, clapped and chanted "Lar-ry! Lar-ry!".

Trials

After the shootout and manhunt the Bronx District Attorney's office, together with District Attorney offices in Manhattan and Long Island, had a long list of charges against Larry Davis including weapons possession, murder of drug dealers, attempted murder of police, kidnapping, and automobile theft. Despite three trials in two years, prosecutors were unable to convince a jury of Larry Davis' guilt for any but the weapons charge, finally getting a conviction over four years after the shootout.

Murder of four Bronx drug dealers

During their opening and closing arguments Davis's attorneys William Kunstler and Lynne Stewart contended, without producing any evidence, that the prosecution evidence was fabricated and that the murder charges were a frame-up to excuse the police raid on Davis's sister's apartment. They further contended that Davis had been recruited into a drug ring by rogue police officers and that the object of the raid was to kill him. The prosecution contended that Davis was a crack dealer who specialized in the armed robbery of other crack dealers, and presented testimony from more than 50 witnesses, including ballistic evidence and fingerprints on a cash box that placed Davis at the scene of the October 1986 murders. The jury found conflicting testimony from witnesses, and discrepancies in times given by prosecution witnesses. After deliberating for nine days, the longest in Bronx history for a single defendant, the jury acquitted Davis of the charges.

Attempted murder of nine police officers

Davis was next tried for shooting six police officers during the apartment raid. He was charged with nine counts of attempted murder, six counts of aggravated assault, two of criminal use of a firearm and eight of criminal possession of a weapon. During jury selection, each side charged the other with racist tactics. The defense charged that the prosecution was deliberately excusing black women because they might be sympathetic to Davis. The judge found that the defense as well had abused their peremptory challenges, "to exclude white jurors on racially motivated grounds". Judge Fried dismissed the first six seated jurors and declared a mistrial. A second mistrial was declared at the request of both sides after the only white juror on the new jury expressed a concern about possible police harassment if he voted to acquit Davis. The jury finally seated was made up of ten blacks and two Hispanics.

Once the trial began, ballistic experts linked the shootings to the .45-caliber pistol seized when Davis was captured. Several wounded officers, including "point man" Thomas McCarren who entered first, identified Davis as the person who had shot them. McCarren testified that when he entered the apartment Davis got up from the couch and ran down a narrow hall to the back bedroom carrying a handgun. McCarren pursued, and the next time he saw Davis was when Davis shot him in the mouth with the .45 pistol. A 12-gauge shotgun slug was found embedded in a drawer in the bedroom and the defense suggested that McCarren was carrying a 12-gauge shotgun and was the first to fire. McCarren said that he had been carrying a shotgun earlier in the evening but had turned it over to another detective assigned to cover the rear of the building, and was armed with only a 38-caliber service revolver when he entered the apartment.

The defense contended that Davis feared for his life and acted in self-defense. Without producing any evidence, they charged that Bronx police were corrupt and involved in the drug trade, and that the police had opened fire first. Davis's mother testified that a police officer had pushed her and threatened to kill her son two weeks before the raid, and that she had warned her son, while also complaining to the Police Department's Civilian Complaint Review Board. The Board sustained her complaint.

On November 20, 1988, after deliberating 38 hours over five days, the jury acquitted Davis of attempted murder and aggravated assault charges but found him guilty of six counts of criminal possession of a weapon. Interviewed by a reporter afterward, the jury forewoman said Davis was a "young and innocent kid who got recruited by a few corrupt policemen... they came in to wipe him out... they wanted him dead so he couldn't squeal on them... they would have killed him." She said the jury believed the defense assertion that the police fired first and that Davis was defending himself.

McCarren, the detective most seriously wounded and forced by his injuries to retire, called the jury's verdict "a racist verdict", and said "The day this happened, a bunch of good honest police officers went to lock up Larry Davis because he had killed people, and not for anything else." Defense attorney Kunstler said "The jury understood what happened – that he acted in self-defense." Defense attorney Stewart said "I really think that the black community is no longer going to have black Sambos, they're going to have black Rambos."

Davis was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison on the weapons possession charges.

Murder of Victor Lagombra

In October 1989 Davis went on trial for the September 1986 murder of Victor Lagombra, described by the prosecutor as a "mid-level" crack dealer. The prosecution charged that Davis killed Lagombra in a "cold-blooded act of savagery" when Lagombra walked into a Manhattan apartment while Davis and two other men were robbing two drug dealers. Ballistics tests showed that Davis's 32-caliber revolver was used in the killing. The defense produced two witnesses who testified that Davis was in Florida making a rap album on the day of the murder.

After a five-week trial and three days of deliberations, Davis was found not guilty. Although William Kunstler was not Davis's attorney in this case, he afterward repeated earlier statements that Davis had helped dishonest police sell drugs, and said that the constant accusations against Davis were a conspiracy.

Murder of Raymond Vizcaino

In January 1987 Davis's older brother Eddie Davis was arrested on charges of murdering a drug dealer during an August 1986 robbery attempt. According to the prosecution, Eddie Davis and Larry Davis, along with two others, shot Raymond Vizcaino to death through an apartment door on Webster Avenue in the Bronx. A jury found Eddie Davis guilty in June 1989.

Larry Davis went on trial for the Vizcaino murder five months later. He was found guilty on March 14 1991. Already serving 5 to 15 years on weapons charges, he was sentenced to serve an additional 25 years to life. After the sentencing, Davis spoke for about an hour, repeating his longstanding complaint that the police and the court system were engaged in a vendetta against him.

Representations on film

Larry Davis tells his story in a 2003 film. The film describes Davis as being "shot in the head at point blank range" by police during the raid; and how he "turned himself in to the FBI, in exchange for their guarantee to investigate the NYPD's involvement in drug deals that he was forced to participate in as a teenager.

In July 2006, Variety magazine reported that Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Damon Dash was planning a documentary on Davis.

Death

Davis had been serving his sentence at Shawangunk Correctional Facility near the Ulster County hamlet of Wallkill. At 7 p.m. February 20, 2008, correctional officers overseeing one of the yards noticed inmates congregating around an apparent fight. When they went to break it up, they found Davis had been stabbed repeatedly with a nine-inch (23 cm) metal shank. He was taken by ambulance to St. Luke's Hospital in nearby Newburgh, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

After questioning by state police and the New York State Department of Correctional Services's (DOCS) inspector general's office, another inmate, Luis Rosado, 42, was charged with murder.

Rosado was already serving a sentence of 25 years to life for murder and assault charges in the early 1980s, and had been denied parole in 2007. He was arraigned at Shawangunk Town Court the next morning. DOCS officials said both he and Davis had long disciplinary records, including fights with other inmates, but there was no record of any previous violence between the two.

On July 31 the county grand jury indicted Rosado on nine felony charges related to the stabbing, including three different counts of murder, assault, criminal possession of a weapon and possession of prison contraband. The murder charges carry a potential sentence of life without parole. Since the arrest, Rosado has been moved to Clinton Correctional Facility far upstate.

References

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