One Police Plaza

No Sorrow Here For Larry Davis

February 25, 2008

Your Humble Servant breathed a small sigh of relief last week upon learning of the death in upstate Shawangunk prison of the convicted drug dealer, murderer, and so-called urban legend Larry Davis.

Although God only knows what some police commissioners of the NYPD might have said about me in private, in 30 years of reporting, Davis was the only person I angered enough that he threatened to kill me.

Davis made the threat some two decades ago, after I reported the details of a taped telephone conversation he had while on the lam for shooting six cops in his sister’s apartment. In that conversation, Davis told of planning to kill one of his gang [“Put two in his head and throw him off the roof"] in the hopes that the police might mistake the victim for Davis.

He made his threat to me in a telephone call to the press room of the Bronx county courthouse, where Yours Truly was hanging his hat in those days. Davis was in Riker’s then, having beaten the rap for shooting the cops. Authorities got him only for weapons possession. He told me he had my home address and that people on the outside would be coming for me. I hung up the phone, never heard from him again, but never got that call out of my mind.

Just 20 years old, the short, stocky Davis had become something of a Bronx folk hero after he shot the six cops, then eluded capture for the next 17 days during a city-wide police manhunt. Chief of Department Robert Johnston orchestrated the pursuit, closing street after Bronx street until he trapped Davis in a housing project like a rat. The cold winter night of his capture, Johnston appeared in the East Bronx wearing a pith helmet. [Not for nothing was he known in the NYPD as Patton.]

The phenomenon of Larry Davis — also acquitted of killing four drug dealers — so intrigued my editors at Newsday that they encouraged me to get to know him and his family. So I did. He, his mother Mary, his brothers [some of whom were also drug dealers and served long prison stretches], sisters, nephews, nieces and other assorted relatives and friends lived with six pit bulls in a large, wood-framed house on Woodycrest Avenue near the Bronx County courthouse. Davis showed me the business cards of some police officers and claimed to be dealing drugs with them. Despite the attempts of his lawyers William Kunstler and Lynne Stewart — the same Lynn Stewart who was convicted in 2006 of illegally aiding blind terror Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and his radical followers — there was no evidence to support any police corruption involving Davis.

By the time of his trial for shooting the cops, there was enough support for him that the Rev. Lawrence Lucas, a Roman Catholic priest, brought a class of students into the courtroom. It was a kind of civics lesson. Lucas strode over to Kunstler and gave him a bear hug. A jury of 10 blacks and two Hispanics subsequently acquitted Davis of the shooting, accepting his story that he fired in self-defense. Convicted only of the least serious, the weapons possession, charge, he was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison.

His urban legend status continued through his last trial in 1991, when he was charged with killing another drug dealer, Ramon Vizcaino. This time it didn’t go so well for him. While in prison, Davis — who had changed his name to Adam Abdul Hakeem — was visited by a female IRS agent, whom Corrections Department officials suspected of providing Davis with the home addresses of judges, detectives and prosecutors who had been involved in his arrests.

The agent, Lorraine M. White, acknowledged to me she had visited Davis in prison on numerous occasions but denied giving him any addresses. The day my interview of her appeared in Newsday, she resigned from the IRS.

Two weeks later, on March 14, the Vizcaino jury convicted Davis. Although I doubt my Newsday stories had anything to do with the verdict, Davis’s attorney Michael Warren bellowed in the courtroom, “Are you happy Lenny? You low-life. You dog. You scoundrel.” [See New York Newsday, March 15, 1991.]

One last point — this one, the flip side of the folk-hero, urban legend story: that all blacks in the Bronx supposedly distrust the police. Former Bronx district attorneys Mario Merola and Paul Gentile, both white men, tried unsuccessfully to convict Davis.

Gentile’s current successor, Bronx district attorney Robert Johnson, the state’s only black district attorney, pursued the Vizcaino case against Davis. Upon his conviction, Johnson said that the guilty verdict “means that a very dangerous individual is going to be made to pay for his wanton acts. … Because of the nature of his crime and the background of Adam Abdul Hakeem, the people intend to seek the maximum sentence.” Davis got the max: 25 years to life.

Despite Johnson's pursuit of Davis, both former police commissioner Howard Safir and former governor George Pataki called him anti-cop. What had spurred their anger was that Johnson opposes the death penalty. After police officer Kevin Gillespie was killed in 1996, Pataki removed the case from Johnson. Awaiting trial, Gillespie’s alleged killer, Angel Diaz, hanged himself in prison.

In the same interview with the New York Times in which Safir called his predecessor Bill Bratton “some airport cop from Boston,” he said he had “no respect for Johnson, none whatsoever.” He later maintained he was misquoted.

Me and the NYPD.
The New York Civil Liberties formally filed suit in state court against the police department to get me back my press pass, which I had had since 1983.

The suit seeks to learn whom the police department issues press cards to, information the department has refused to provide — despite statements by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that he wants more “transparency” — his word — within the police department.

The suit cites the following incidents:

bulletPolice Commissioner Ray Kelly’s visit to Newsday in 2003 to complain to my editors about columns critical of him. Kelly had never complained to me. Neither did any member of his staff.

bulletKelly’s barring me from One Police Plaza in 2005 for no stated reason. The ban was rescinded through the intervention of the Civil Liberties attorney Chris Dunn. I was then provided with a “minder” — Sgt. Kevin Hayes of the Public Information Department — who was assigned to follow me about the building.

bulletKelly’s barring me again from Police Plaza in 2006, again for no stated reason. That, too, was rescinded after Dunn intervened.