Jim Crow Justice, Jim Crow Journalism: Shorty versus Dred Scott decision

Sun readers may remember Duane “Shorty” Davis as the man arrested for placing a “toilet bomb” outside of the Baltimore County Courthouse. The toilet, of course, was not a bomb, and Shorty was found not guilty by a jury of his peers. To their credit, the Sun reported on this verdict and even did a follow-up story with a cool photo gallery for the two-year anniversary.

Since then, another year has gone by, and Shorty returned to court on Monday for another trial. This time, he was the plaintiff. What transpired was truly amazing. For example, Shorty was able (for the first time) to cross-examine under oath Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger: the very man responsible for wrongfully jailing Shorty in 2011. You won’t read about it in the Sun or see it on cable, so we’ve brought you an Eclipse exclusive report.

You can also watch videos from outside the courthouse at Freeman Sullivan’s livestream channel. And here’s an interview with Freeman & Shorty, conducted on Sunday 23 Feb, to introduce the case:

Without further ado, our report:

Davis v. Davis & Hammonds

February 24, 2014

0. Summary: Duane “Shorty” Davis was wrongfully incarcerated in Lake County, Illinois, where he returned in December 2007 to collect material for his documentary on the prison industry and corruption in the court system. Upon arrival, he was arrested on a specious charge of terrorism and incarcerated for six months. Less than a month and a half after Shorty left Baltimore, his landlord James Hammonds wrongfully evicted him by signing a new lease on his store with his son, Jake Davis. Jake Davis proceeded to impersonate and defraud Duane Davis, using his name & likeness to promote the business and even writing checks from Duane Davis’s bank account.

Shorty provided a large supply of evidence for a case of fraud, identity theft, and embezzlement, to the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office. This office claims they turned some of the evidence over to the Baltimore County Police Department, though apparently they also retained some of it. Without ever reviewing the evidence themselves—but possibly based on police recommendation—they declined to bring criminal charges against Jake Davis. Yet when Jake Davis came to them with his own case, they were willing to bring trespassing charges against Shorty.

Evidence for the case is now scattered in different places. In the course of working on his documentary, Shorty provided videos showing evidence in the case to numerous officials in Baltimore. Much of the evidence for the case was in Shorty’s truck, which was confiscated when he was arrested in February 2011. A jury trial in September 2011 found Shorty not guilty, and the Baltimore County Police Department was ordered to return his property. They still haven’t.

Shorty has proceeded with a civil case against Jake Davis and James Hammonds. Negotiations in June 2013 led the court to arrange for a three-day trial, beginning at 9:30 AM, in Baltimore County Circuit Court, on Monday February 24. Shorty requested a jury trial.

Instead of a three-day jury trial, Shorty got a four-hour judge trial. The charges against Hammonds were dismissed on a technicality that had been ruled out by the judge during the 2013 negotiation. Subpoenas for various people known to possess evidence in the case were quashed. Multiple pieces of relevant paperwork were missing from the judge’s file. The judge (Nancy M. Purpura) refused to squarely address the obstruction of justice entailed by confiscating evidence and defying a court order by not returning it. State’s Attorneys Scott Shellenberger and Adam Lippe delivered contradictory testimony regarding the investigation supposedly conducted by their office into Shorty’s accusations. Purpura then further ignored the evidence that was available to her, including direct testimony delivered in the courtroom, to find the defendant Jake Davis not culpable for any of the charges.

This case is just one example of how people are treated unfairly by the prison system and by the court system, and how black activists are feared and repressed by the government. The court system has no problem putting you in jail on fake charges (and holding no one accountable) but then it doesn’t work for you when you have mountains of real evidence. Here are some specific things that obviously went wrong yesterday:

1. Constitutional right to jury trial—shamelessly violated. The Seventh Amendment to the US Constitution gives every citizen the right to a jury trial for any dispute concerning a value greater than $20. Duane Davis was offered a trial by judge and rejected this option, insisting on a jury trial. Yet he got a trial by judge. What is the excuse for this?

2. Where was the Baltimore County Police Department? Both Scott Shellenberger and Adam Lippe “passed the buck” to the Police, saying that they had done the relevant investigation and possessed the relevant evidence. Even the MJCS record, notorious for spotty & incomplete information, shows “Chief James W Johnson’s motion to quash and/or a protective order of plt’s subpoena.” Not only was this motion not adjucated during the Feb 24 trial; it was apparently not even available to Judge Purpura, who said she saw no evidence of a police subpoena. Whereas other motions to quash (such as that for Deborah Jeon) are listed as “Granted”, no such designation appears for Chief Johnson.

3. Missing files. In addition to the apparent lack of paperwork on the police subpoena, the judge also did not have the affadavit of service, filed seven days ago with the Baltimore County Circuit Court according to Brian Vaeth and Duane Davis. Why not?

4. Bizarre decision by judge. I recognize that law is subjective, and that a trial by judge (unwanted!) leaves one dependent on the views and reasoning of one particular person. Nevertheless I am taken aback by the particular conclusions drawn by Nancy Purpura in this case. She had seemingly incontrovertible (certainly undisputed) evidence of a forged check, sitting right on her desk. (The check was written from Duane Davis’s account and signed as him—while he was incarcerated in Illinois.) Jake Davis argued that he did not forge the check himself, and while this is conceivable, the check did pertain directly to the business he was operating. Jake Davis admitted in court that he used checks from Duane Davis’s account to pay business expenses. These checks would necessarily have been forged, used illegally and without authorization, well before Duane gave Jake power of attorney. Again, the defendant literally conceded one of the charges against him, yet Judge Purpura dismissed all charges as “wild accusations” and awarded nothing to the plaintiff.

Purpura ended the trial abruptly, without allowing Shorty the time she had promised for rebuttal or closing statement.

5. Landlord avoids trial with (faulty interpretation of?) technicality. James Hammonds and his lawyer John Murphy acknowledged that they received copies of the summons. They even appeared in court for a settlement negotiation, during which time the judge said he considered their ‘failure to serve in person’ argument to be invalid. Yet Judge Purpura allowed Hammonds to leave the trial after ten minutes because he was not properly served.

A third party, Brian Vaeth, testified under oath that he delivered the summons to a person over 18 years old on the Hammonds property. If he’s telling the truth, he satisfied the legal requirements for a summons. His testimony was never disproven, since Hammonds didn’t bother to bring his wife, Angela Hammonds, to testify about whether she had accepted the paperwork from Vaeth. James Hammonds says he found the summons “jammed into a screen door” on his house; if Angela Hammonds received the paperwork and then left it in the screen door, James Hammonds would still have been legally served. James Hammonds cannot legally testify—it’s hearsay—on whether his wife received paperwork in his absence. Yet Judge Purpura allowed this testimony without a word, even before going on to deny Duane Davis 100% of his abundant video evidence because she conjectured that certain types of testimony contained within the videos would not be admissible.

When plaintiff Davis pointed out that he had sent certified mail, Purpura said he was helping Hammonds’ case, because if the certified mail was returned it didn’t count as proper service. The whole scenario is comical, since Hammonds has obviously been adequately informed about the case and provided with all the necessary information. For a lawyer’s office to refuse certified mail in order to dismiss a case on a technicality is, in my humble opinion, unethical. And indeed, provably sending certified mail to the correct address may actually be enough to satisfy the legal requirement for summons.

6. Two Baltimore County State’s Attorneys describe their negligence under oath. Both Scott Shellenberger and Adam Lippe say they never looked at evidence in their possession while deciding whether or not to prosecute a case for Duane Davis. Yet their same office, led by Shellenberger, decided to press criminal charges against Duane Davis, for a dispute in which that same evidence would have been relevant. Adam Lippe admitted that his office never contacted the IRS or state comptroller regarding the accusations of identity theft and forged checks. Both State’s Attorneys offer an inconsistent story; did Mr. Lippe turn Mr. Davis away after deciding (through oral conversation) that there was no grounds for a case? Or did he refer the case to Baltimore County Police Department for investigation?

Even when the Sun does report on Shorty, they only give details that portray him as a wacky extremist. They never tell you about the documentary he was making to expose the prison industry and its corrupt ties to lawyers, judges, politicians… and the media.

To be continued.

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