Police Make Sure He’s Dead (and Silent) Before His Family Sees Him

Shot three times by police, then isolated in hospital. Why was Kevin Davis’s family barred from seeing him?

Kevin Davis was cuffed to an Atlanta hospital bed for the last two days of his life, and his family say they were denied visits – and kept from the truth about what really happened

Kevin Davis, Georgia

Kevin Davis died on 31 December but his case has only come to light after his family recruited attorneys. Photograph: Family picture

Jon Swaine, The Guardian, in Decatur, Georgia

Thursday 12 February 2015

Police in Georgia who cuffed a man to his hospital bed for two days after he was fatally shot by an officer have been accused by his family of barring them from visiting him to stop full details of the shooting from being disclosed.

Kevin Davis was detained at Grady hospital in Atlanta after being shot three times by a DeKalb County police officer, who was responding to a 911 call made by Davis and his girlfriend when she was stabbed by another man at their apartment in the suburb of Decatur.

His sister, Delisa, said she spent his final hours begging police to allow her to see him, but that they refused until he died. “They denied us access to him because they didn’t want him telling us what really happened that night,” she told the Guardian. In his last known remarks, Davis told a medic that an officer simply arrived at his home “and began shooting”.

Jeffrey Mann, the DeKalb County sheriff, said in a statement on Thursday that his department showed “appropriate compassion” to detainees’ families. “It is mandatory, however, that security protocol is applied consistently in order to protect the safety of both the inmate and the general public,” said Mann, who denied that his officers on duty had blocked relatives from visiting.

Davis had been arrested and charged with aggravated assault against the police officer, Joseph Pitts, because he allegedly ignored an order to drop a revolver he was holding. Davis’s girlfriend, April Edwards, said he grabbed the unloaded gun and approached their front door after their dog was shot and they feared that her attacker may have returned with a gun.

Pitts shot Davis in disputed circumstances. Police have said that Davis approached Pitts, who was in the corridor outside the apartment, shouting: “You shot my dog.” Pitts had shot the three-legged pitbull dead, later alleging it “charged” at him after he opened the door to Davis’s apartment. Police also said Pitts ordered Davis twice to “put down the gun”.

Kevin Davis and family

Kevin Davis and family. Photograph: Family picture

But according to hospital files obtained by the Guardian, after arriving by ambulance Davis told an emergency room medic in his last known remarks “that police came to his house after there was an altercation with his girlfriend and began shooting”.

His family’s attorneys said witnesses did not hear Davis say anything to the officer, and that the 44-year-old did not even make it past the threshold to his apartment. They said neighbours recalled hearing shots fired almost instantly after an order to drop the revolver.

Hospital officials confirmed that relatives were able to visit patients in custody if the law enforcement agency involved granted permission. The DeKalb County sheriff’s office, which was responsible for Davis during his stay in hospital, said it granted permission “in the most grave situations”, yet Davis’s family said they were refused access even as he deteriorated fatally.

In Thursday’s statement, Mann said his officers guarding Davis were not “asked by family members for visitation privileges”. Delisa Davis said she asked one officer via a nurse over telephone on 30 December and heard him advise her to call senior officers at the sheriff’s department, who did not return her calls.

Davis’s niece, Barbara Davis-Colter, told the Guardian on Thursday that she, her sister and father then visited the hospital and asked to see Davis, but were not allowed past the front desk on the floor where he was being held.

After being sent to a “detention” department, they asked officers to let them see Davis, she said. “But they said only DeKalb County officers could let us see him, and there were no DeKalb County officers there.”

Davis-Colter said that after returning to Davis’s ward, and being sent once again to the detention department, they were finally given a DeKalb telephone number to call, yet got no response. “We were blocked at every turn,” said Delisa Davis.

Despite being instantly paralysed by one of Pitts’s bullets, Davis was cuffed by his ankles to his bed to prevent a possible escape. “From the time I found out he had been shot, I was calling Grady, I was calling DeKalb County, and I couldn’t get anybody to give me a straight answer or let me see him,” said his sister. “They just gave me the runaround.”

Police have not said how many times he was shot. His sister said she was told by doctors that they had found three bullets in his body – one lodged in his spine, one in his stomach and another in an arm. Medical reports from the hospital detail five separate wounds.

Delisa Davis said that when she was told that her brother had “expired” on 31 December, a detective told her: “I guess you can go to Grady now.” She said: “It was just so callous, like they weren’t dealing with humans.” Davis’s case has only come to light in recent days after his family belatedly recruited attorneys.

Davis’s family initially said he had been handcuffed. Asked to confirm this, Mann first said in a statement that his department “routinely restrain arrestees, generally with handcuffs” in the interests of “the safety of the public and inmates” in their custody. In the later statement, Mann clarified following an internal review that Davis was in fact in ankle restraints.

“It is also our practice not to allow inmate visitation except in the most grave situations, and then with the confirmation of that condition by the medical professionals at the facility,” Mann said in his original statement. “Tragically, Mr Davis succumbed to his wounds while being treated at Grady Hospital.”

Denise Simpson, a spokeswoman for Grady hospital, said she could not discuss specific detention methods used on patients in custody “as procedures may vary based on patient conditions, medical treatments required, etc”.

“Grady policy requires that anyone wishing to visit a custody patient contact the appropriate law enforcement agency and obtain approval from that agency,” said Simpson. “That agency then notifies our staff if visitation is approved.”

This article was updated on 12 February 2015 to add a second statement from DeKalb County sheriff Jeffrey Mann and comments from Barbara Davis-Colter.

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