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United States v. Davis

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

April 29, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
DANIEL DAVIS

          RULING AND ORDER

          JOHN W. DEGRAVELLES JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion for New Trial in the Interest of Justice, Pursuant to Rule 33, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (Doc. 245) filed by Defendant Daniel Davis. The Government opposes the motion. (Doc. 265). On December 10, 2018, and March 8, 2019, the Court held evidentiary hearings on the motion. The parties submitted briefs in support of their respective positions following the December 10, 2018 hearing. (Docs. 264, 265, 273 & 274). After careful consideration of the parties' arguments, the facts in the record, and the applicable law, and for the following reasons, the defendant's motion (Doc. 245) is granted.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Overview

         In November 2016, Defendant Daniel Davis was indicted and charged with two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law and four counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly assaulting an inmate twice at Louisiana State Penitentiary (“LSP”) in Angola, Louisiana, and leading a conspiracy to cover up the assault. (Doc. 1). Davis was a supervisory correctional officer at the rank of Major at the time of the assault. In January 2018, Davis was convicted of four counts of obstruction of justice and acquitted of one count of deprivation of rights under color of law for the first alleged assault. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining deprivation-of- rights count, and the Court declared a mistrial. The remaining count was ultimately set for retiral in November 2018.

         On November 8, 2018, following a four-day jury trial, Davis was convicted of the one remaining count of deprivation of rights under color of law for the second alleged assault in an exterior breezeway. After the jury delivered its verdict, the Court held an informal discussion with jurors thanking them for their service. During this discussion, several members of the jury, including the foreperson, revealed that they were aware that Davis was involved in a prior trial and convicted of certain charges related to the offense he was ultimately convicted of in the instant trial. It is unknown how the information was revealed, as neither the Court nor the parties discussed it during the trial.[1] The next day, the Court held a telephonic status conference with counsel for Davis and the Government informing them of this discussion and soliciting feedback on the next steps to be taken. Subsequently, the parties and the Court agreed to hold a hearing during which each juror was individually questioned about his or her knowledge of Davis' prior trial and the discussion held with the Court following their verdict on November 8, 2018.

         B. November 2018 Trial

         From November 5 to November 8, 2018, Davis stood trial on the charge in Count Two of the Indictment. Davis, along with codefendants John Sanders and James Savoy--both of whom previously pled guilty and agreed to cooperate with the Government--was accused of assaulting an inmate “on the exterior breezeway connecting the Shark units” at LSP while the inmate was restrained by handcuffs and shackles on January 4, 2014. (Doc. 1 at 2-3). At the trial, four correctional officers--Scotty Kennedy, John Sanders, Enrico George, and Patricia Seymore-- offered eyewitness accounts of the incident. Their testimony revealed that Davis “yanked” the inmate's shackles, causing him to fall face-first onto the ground in the breezeway.[2] According to testimony, Davis then proceeded to punch and stomp on the inmate and was joined by Sanders, a subordinate officer who interpreted Davis' action in yanking the shackles as a “green light” to assault the inmate. (Doc. 251 at 12-13). Savoy and Willy Thomas also participated in the assault. (Id. at 13). Throughout the alleged assault, the inmate was restrained and was not resisting. (Id. at 15). The assault left the inmate with serious injuries, including broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, and a punctured lung.

         The Court also heard testimony from Kennedy, Sanders, and George that Davis devised a cover story and instructed the three to report that the inmate had provoked the assault, that Davis merely assisted Kennedy in gaining control of the inmate, and that Sanders and Savoy were not present for or involved in the assault. (See, e.g., Doc. 251 at 21-31). Davis did not testify at the November 2018 trial or provide his own theory of the case, but his portrayal of events was introduced through witnesses testimony and his attorneys' opening and closing statements.

         C. Juror Testimony

         On December 10, 2018, 11 of the 12 deliberating jurors testified, in addition to one juror who was excused before the end of trial for personal reasons. The final deliberating juror appeared for questioning on March 8, 2019. The Court will summarize each juror's testimony, listing them in the order in which they testified on December 10 and March 8:

         Juror 1 : Juror 1 recalled that, after the trial concluded and the Court issued its final instructions, while the jurors were eating lunch, the foreperson “casually” mentioned that Davis had a prior trial and conviction and that this was “the second go-round.” (Doc. 260 at 4-5). He was unsure of what the previous conviction was for, but knew that a mistrial had been declared and that the current trial was a result of the mistrial. (Id. at 6). While there were other conversations between jurors occurring at this time, “several others” heard the foreperson's comment. (Id. at 5- 6). However, the issue was not raised again during the jury's deliberations. (Id. at 7-8).

         Juror 2: During lunch on the last day of trial after the jury was excused, Juror 2 heard the foreperson mention that the defendant was involved in a prior trial and that the current trial was “another part” of it. (Id. at 11). She did not remember hearing anything specific about the previous trial, and this was the only time it was discussed. (Id. at 9-11).

         Juror 3: Juror 3 testified that “at least two people” mentioned something about a prior trial, but the only one he could identify was the foreperson. (Id. at 12). The foreperson stated that the defendant “was convicted along with the other guys” and that the current trial was for “a count that didn't go through.” (Id. at 13). Juror 3 then stated to the others that they were “not supposed to talk about anything unless it was brought up in court, ” to which the foreperson responded that the issue of a prior trial was discussed in the courtroom during trial. (Id. at 13-14).

         Juror 4: Did not hear anything about a prior trial until after the jury reached its verdict. (Id. at 16).

         Juror 5: Juror 5 first heard about a prior trial while having lunch during the trial, when the foreperson commented that the defendant had been tried previously.[3] (Id. at 20-21). The foreperson did not provide any details concerning the previous trial or whether it “had anything to do with [this] case.” (Id. at 21). Juror 5 testified that the issue was mentioned only once. (Id. at 22).

         Juror 6: While “deliberating after the trial, ” the foreperson “mentioned that there was a guilty verdict reached for falsifying paperwork and perhaps something else, perhaps one other charge, in a separate trial and this trial was being held because . . . no verdict was reached on this specific charge.” (Id. at 24). Juror 7 assumed that “probably everybody” heard this comment, but noted that jurors were having “multiple conversations” at the same time and was ...


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