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."
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.
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.
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!".
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.
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.
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.
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.