Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Desire Terrorist

‘A Police Death Squad’

Attorney Mike McMahon
Attorney Mike McMahon
“What happened on October 13, 1994, should not have happened in the United States of America,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike McMahon began in his closing remarks to the jury in Federal District Court for Eastern Louisiana. “We proved the existence of a death squad. A police death squad in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the United States of America.”
Federal District Court, Eastern LA
Federal District Court, Eastern LA
Ten feet away from McMahon, seated at the defendants’ table with a perpetual scowl on his fearsome-looking face, was 31-year-old Len Davis. Seated next to him, also sporting a defiant scowl, was 28-year-old Paul “Cool” Hardy. Sitting next to Hardy, looking somewhat fearful of possible consequences was 25-year-old Damon Causey. All three men stood accused of an assortment of murder charges. Seated with them were the grim-faced lawyers defending them. They had already delivered their closing arguments, desperately attempting to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors in the face of overwhelming evidence against their clients.
Len Davis
Len Davis
An ominous silence hung over the courtroom as McMahon recounted a detailed trail of evidence that pointed toward the guilt of the defendants. Crucial to the government’s case were tape-recorded cellphone calls that ordered the hit on the victim. Unbeknownst to the three accused men, the FBI had been eavesdropping on what the defendants thought were private conversations. Even though the tapes had been played earlier in the trial, McMahon had them replayed to strengthen the arguments he was making on behalf of the victim and grieving members of her family who were seated in the courtroom. On the bench, Judge Ginger Berrigan intently watched McMahon as he meticulously laid out the federal government’s case against the three accused men. The date was April 22, 1996.
Holding aloft a blown-up photograph of the attractive victim, 32-year-old Kim Marie Groves, McMahon said, “She had to die like a dog on the street because she got in Len Davis’ way… Kim Groves deserves a little justice right now because in life she didn’t get any… We’re not supposed to have death squads in the United States of America.”
Kim Groves, victim
Kim Groves, victim
Who was Kim Marie Groves, and why was the U.S. Attorney’s office so intent on convicting those accused of taking part in her murder? At the time she was shot to death in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward, she was a single mother of three children who worked as a part-time security guard at the Louisiana Superdome. When her death was reported in the Times-Picayune, New Orleans’s daily newspaper, the story took up just three short paragraphs on the obit page. Murders, especially those that took place in the city’s predominantly black housing projects and low-income neighborhoods, had become so commonplace in New Orleans at that time they rarely made news unless the victim was well known or was a tourist visiting the city. In police jargon, “black-on-black” murders were callously termed “garden variety.”
However, two months later, when the full story of Groves’ murder became public, it made front page headlines. Shock waves rumbled throughout the city and reverberated around the world, making headlines abroad. The man accused of orchestrating her killing was a decorated New Orleans police officer.
A decorated but thoroughly corrupt police officer in an American city had ordered a “hit” on an ordinary citizen; one who had reported him for police brutality only a day or two before she met her tragic end. The man hired to do the killing was a notorious drug kingpin with a long rap sheet that included other murder accusations. The third man standing accused of the murder took charge of dispensing with the murder weapon. Two other accomplices avoided murder charges in exchange for their testimony.
What emerged during the trial was the disclosure of the existence of an intricate network of police and drug dealers, working together to thwart the law and threatening to “take out” anyone who got in their way. Cops hanging out in sleazy bars with hardened criminals, conspiring to protect them from the laws they were sworn to uphold when they first donned their badges. Cops and criminals, buddy-buddy in illegal operations, moving crack cocaine onto the streets of New Orleans and into the city’s low-income housing projects. Cops and criminals, killing without remorse and rejoicing over the deaths of their victims. Their story and the far-reaching ramifications of it follow.

‘The Murder Capital of America’

New Orleans, LA map
New Orleans, LA map
During her short life, Kim Marie Groves was one of just 485,000 other citizens of New Orleans, known only to her family and a few close friends. In death, she became a martyr. The violent end she met came to symbolize police brutality at its worst case scenario. She was a cause celebré for police reform. Her murder was one of the major catalysts that shook the New Orleans Police Department to its core and helped lead to a much-needed shakedown that would weed out the bad apples from one of the most corrupt law enforcement agencies in the nation.
In 1994, the year of the Groves murder, New Orleans attained the unwanted distinction of being “The Murder Capital of America.” Between January 1 and December 31, four hundred and twenty-one homicide victims gave the Crescent City the highest per capita murder rate in the nation. Even though the largest percentage of these killings were “black-on-black” murders in the city’s housing projects and other “bad neighborhoods,” the numbers were scaring off tourists and conventions. Following the oil bust of the mid-1980s, tourism became New Orleans’s major industry. City officials and community business leaders, both black and white, were justifiably alarmed that a valuable tax base would be lost if the murder rate continued unchecked. Their fears were not eased by an October 30, 1994, “60 Minutes” segment on CBS that tarred the city’s reputation for having the highest rate of police brutality in the U.S.
Mayor Marc Morial
Mayor Marc Morial
New Orleans mayor Marc Morial, who had taken office in May of that year, took vehement exception to the “60 Minutes” report, calling it “as stale as a six-month-old loaf of French bread.” He maintained that the statistics Mike Wallace cited dated back to the previous administration. Several of those interviewed for the “60 Minutes” segment were disgruntled ex-cops with axes to grind, but the fact that these former officers were, themselves, corrupt didn’t help matters any. So, despite the mayor’s bravado and his challenge to CBS to “come and look at what we’re doing here now,” large and small organizations continued to boycott New Orleans. Many of them cancelled their plans for holding conventions there, despite the city’s world famous wealth of food, entertainment and historic attractions. Potential tourists were routed by travel agents and word of mouth to “safer” Southern cities like Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Atlanta and Orlando.
Throughout his first five months in office, Morial retained the police superintendent who had been appointed by his predecessor, while he launched a nationwide search for a chief who could shake up NOPD and set it on the road to reform. Finally, on October 13, 1994, he announced his long and anxiously awaited selection: Assistant Police Chief Richard J. Pennington of the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department.
Pennington’s appointment was greeted with enthusiasm by the city’s business community and its law-abiding citizenry who had been living in daily fear for their lives. Over his 26-year law enforcement career in the nation’s capital, Pennington had acquired a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense, but low-profile and fair-minded cop. He held out the promise of bringing a vast store of knowledge of the latest crime-fighting techniques to the New Orleans police force, along with the modern technological savvy needed to upgrade a woefully behind-the-times department.

‘My God, What Am I Getting Into?’

When he took the oath of office from Mayor Morial, “Chief” Pennington knew his job would not be an easy one. He had heard many of the horror stories ahead of time. He had even gone around the city, incognito, before his appointment was announced, watching some of the city’s cops in action and seeing instances of police corruption firsthand. But he had no idea how bad the situation really was until a party held in his honor the night he was sworn in. An FBI agent came up to him amid the festivities and whispered in his ear that a “sting” operation was underway. The Bureau was secretly monitoring corrupt cops, especially those involved in large-scale drug-dealing.
Chief Richard Pennington
Chief Richard Pennington
The clandestine probe had been going on since December of the previous year and Pennington was made privy to some stunning revelations. More than fifty cops were under investigation for offenses ranging from shaking down nightclub owners to dealing in stolen merchandise to illegally profiting from leasing city equipment to visiting movie companies. “I wondered to myself, my God, what am I getting into?” Pennington told me in an interview for Data News Weekly, one of New Orleans’s three black newspapers, in May 2002, shortly before he left office.
Less than eight hours after Pennington’s swearing in, Groves became the first murder victim on his watch. She was victim number 341 for the year. Gunned down in front of the house she shared with her three children and her grandmother in the 1300 block of Alabo Street, she was just another tragic, faceless, “garden variety” statistic until early December when it was revealed that NOPD Patrolman Len Davis had ordered the “hit” on her. His cellphone conversations, describing her location and what she was wearing to Hardy, were captured on tape by the FBI, who were unable to discern at the time that a murder-for-hire was in progress.
Eager to do his friend’s bidding and stay in the good graces of a New Orleans cop who was protecting and partnering with him in illegal drug deals, Hardy did as he was told. As accomplice Steve Jackson drove his 1991 Nissan Maxima into the Lower Ninth Ward, Hardy calmly got out and blew Groves away with a single shot to the head. As they drove away from the crime scene, Causey took charge of concealing the murder weapon. Hardy tossed the barrel into a waterway known as the Industrial Canal, attached a new one and handed it to Causey, who stashed the 9-millimeter Baretta in his Ninth Ward apartment.
Paul Hardy
Paul Hardy
When Hardy called Davis around 11 p.m. to report that the gruesome deed had been done, Davis triumphantly shrieked into the phone, “Yeah, yeah, yeah! Rock-a-bye!” His partner, Sammie Williams, rejoiced along with him.
When the news of this previously unthinkable collaboration between cops and desperadoes became public, it spawned a morbid brand of gallows humor. Times-Picayune columnist James Gill suggested that the solution to the city’s crime problem might be to “hire fewer policemen.” At a public meeting of a concerned neighborhood group, an elderly black woman stood up and announced, “We’re gonna have to hire some criminals to protect us from the police!” How had the situation in the city deteriorated to such a low ebb?

The Road to Corruption:
Part 1 — ‘The Big Sleazy’

Because of the nature of what they do — enforcing the laws of civilized society — police officers are held to a higher standard than the average citizen. They are expected to be above reproach as they discharge their duties and they are expected to live by the same rules they enforce. Unfortunately, in New Orleans in the latter years of the 20th century, these standards broke down and the trust in which the police department was held was being violated with impunity. The city that fondly calls itself “The Big Easy” was becoming known as “The Big Sleazy.”
NOPD Badge
NOPD Badge
By the 1990s, the road to rampant police corruption in NOPD had become well-paved. Once a respected and respectable agency whose motto is “To Protect and Serve,” NOPD became plagued by a multiplicity of internal problems that impeded the department’s overall effectiveness. Morale was at an all-time low. Although the vast majority of the 1,500-1,600 New Orleans police officers were honest and dedicated, a relatively small percentage of crooked cops tarred the reputation of the entire department. Between 1992 and 1995 roughly 60 NOPD officers were charged in a wide variety of crimes, according to statistics quoted in the city’s respected news publications.
On top of the corruption, NOPD also had a shameful record for police brutality. Numerous incidents were reported to the department’s Internal Affairs Division and the Office of Municipal Investigations charging officers with roughing up victims, often without sufficient cause. Many of the cases reported to IAD were never followed up, according to anonymous police sources quoted in the Times-Picayune. Suspects in various crimes even died while in police custody.
In 1990, a fugitive black man named Adolph Archie shot and killed a New Orleans police officer. Captured after a long foot chase through the city’s downtown streets, Archie was severely beaten up in one of the city’s police stations, then refused medical treatment. He subsequently died and the city’s black community was outraged. When “60 Minutes” aired its segment on NOPD police brutality, it had a vast store of raw material to work with.
The corruption within the department was systemic. It permeated nearly every phase of operations and encompassed officers at all levels — from rookie patrolmen to high-ranking deputy superintendents. To begin with, New Orleans’s police officers at that time were woefully underpaid. Starting salaries for patrolmen were only slightly above $15,000 a year at a time when the average American workingperson’s salary was in the mid-30s. Even veteran officers were barely making $25,000-30,000 annually. Mere pittances for the occupational hazards they faced every time they went out on patrol.
Most New Orleans cops had to moonlight at second jobs known as “details” to make extra money and meet their escalating living expenses. At one point, an estimated 75 to 80 percent of the NOPD force was moonlighting on these details. Usually these details involved providing security for special events, bars and nightclubs, visiting film crews and other similar arrangements with groups and individuals in the private sector. Sometimes they did these details in uniform; sometimes not. On numerous occasions, high-ranking officers worked details under the supervision of lower-ranking patrolmen.
With so many cops working private details, it didn’t take long for the entrepreneurial spirit to manifest itself. Enterprising individuals within the department began “contracting” detail work for fellow officers and receiving a percentage of what the officers they hired were being paid. Small fiefdoms — and even empires — began evolving as these arrangements became more lucrative to those doing the contracting. They became businesses within the business of policing the city.
According to newspaper reports, some of these “detail brokers” were conducting their private side businesses on their shifts, using police radios and other communications devices provided to them by the city and its taxpayers. Arranging private security details became so profitable for some of these brokers that their second incomes were bringing in more money than their salaries. Some of them even left the department to head their own private security firms.
The department’s brass had mixed views on the issue of private details. On the one hand, they didn’t want to buck up against PANO, the powerful Police Association of New Orleans, which supported details. As long as police officers could make extra money on details, PANO wouldn’t make too big an issue out of pushing for higher salaries; money the city’s tight budget could ill afford to come up with, following the disastrous “oil bust” of the late 80s. On the other hand, working these details was taxing on the officers’ stamina and overall effectiveness. Working an eight-hour detail after an eight-hour police shift was making many officers fatigued on the job and slower to respond to emergencies.

The Road to Corruption:
Part 2 — Abuse on All Levels

Other enterprising NOPD officers found lucrative side jobs providing security for visiting movie production crews. New Orleans, with its centuries-old architecture and nearby scenic bayous, has been a favorite location for movie shoots since the early 20th century. Film production in and around the city was flourishing in the 1980s and 1990s.
Several of the patrolmen on movie details convinced the naïve producers — most of whom were from California, New York and abroad — to pay them for the job they were doing, even though they were already on patrol and collecting their regular salaries. Some of these clever cops took these producers’ naïveté a step or two further. They charged producers for the rental of city-owned equipment such as barricades, squad cars, horses, police dogs and other city property and they pocketed the money. The city didn’t make a dime on these deals and it didn’t become known until the late 80s when the whistle was blown and several cops were indicted for payroll fraud. At least one conviction resulted.
Two or three cops in particular outdid their counterparts on these movie details. They muscled in on the movies themselves and convinced the producers to let them appear on-camera. And, since they were given “speaking roles,” they received SAG-scale (Screen Actors Guild) wages and were paid as actors — even though their speaking roles may have been limited to a line or two. Some of the more devious cops managed to get their families into the act — literally — with on-camera roles or by providing ancillary services. The wife of one of these actor/cops was a nurse and she provided on-site “medical services” for the cast and crew; for pay, of course. Family members of other officers were awarded lucrative food catering deals, according to anonymous informed sources within the city’s film industry.
During this golden age of NOPD corruption, it was discovered that some officers of the K-9 Corps were secretly leasing city-owned police dogs to breeders in exchange for “stud fees,” the way horse breeders do with thoroughbred stallions. The city didn’t make a dime on these deals, either, but the K-9 officers were obviously making considerably more than that.
According to other published reports, several detectives in charge of tracking down ownership of stolen vehicles made little or no effort to do so. Knowing that the owners would be compensated by their insurance companies, these detectives kept the choicest vehicles for themselves and sold some of the others on the side. They would claim that they couldn’t locate the vehicles’ owners when, in truth, they never really tried. They hadn’t bothered to record the vehicles’ VIN (serial) numbers, run them through the Motor Vehicle Office’s database, or pick up a phone book and contact the owners.
A number of NOPD officers, while on paid details for French Quarter nightclubs, began shaking down the owners for “protection” like big-city gangsters of the Roaring 20s. One officer, while on a private detail in a French Quarter club, looted the club’s cash drawer, telling the flabbergasted owner that he was doing an undercover investigation and he needed the money as “evidence.” Other officers on bar details, while not stealing or engaging in other crooked practices, were observed to be drinking on the job.
One officer in particular, who had once been fired from the department for theft, then rehired, was regularly shaking down a naïve foreign-born gas station/convenience store operator. He would demand $100 a week for “protection” and help himself to free food and drinks during his visits. His “protection,” according to an article in the Times-Picayune, was nothing more than including the facility on his regular nightly patrol, for which he was already being paid his regular salary.
Other abuses abounded within the department. One officer was kicked off the force for forging a signature on another officer’s paycheck and trying to cash it. Incredibly, nine years later, that same officer was allowed to reenter the department’s Police Academy until word of it leaked out. One of the treasurers of PANO was dismissed from his position for embezzling over $200,000 from the union’s coffers. Many officers were taking their squad cars home with them for private use, filling their tanks at city expense.
One veteran officer, who had risen to the second-highest departmental echelon, that of Deputy Superintendent, began publicly flaunting his exalted ranking. He appeared in public wearing $800 Armani suits, gold cufflinks and other expensive jewelry. It was also reputed that he had an extensive collection of fine wines in his lavish, six-figure home. It wasn’t long before the knowledge of his extra curricular activities became a matter of public record. He was linked to Las Vegas mob-based gambling interests and reputed to be a partner in a company dealing in video poker machines and other gaming equipment, just as casino gambling was becoming legal in New Orleans. He was even photographed walking alongside a notorious organized crime figure in the airport in Vegas. When asked to comment on the affluent lifestyle he appeared to be enjoying while a member of one of the nation’s lowest-paid police departments, he proclaimed, “I didn’t take a vow of poverty when I joined the department.”
This particular high-ranking police official, who was later discharged from his duties and drummed out of the department in disgrace, was a member of NOPD’s “Old Guard.” This loosely grouped cadre of officers consisted of predominantly white veterans whose hiring predated opening the ranks to members of minority groups. Within the department, they formed an exclusive clique and, within that clique were sub-cliques. Officers in these groups had their respective “turfs,” mostly those having to do with brokering private details. They were more loyal to each other than they were to their individual districts or the department and its brass, as a whole. They hung together and often covered for each other when citizen complaints were filed against one of their number.

The Road to Corruption:
Part 2 — Abuse on All Levels

Other enterprising NOPD officers found lucrative side jobs providing security for visiting movie production crews. New Orleans, with its centuries-old architecture and nearby scenic bayous, has been a favorite location for movie shoots since the early 20th century. Film production in and around the city was flourishing in the 1980s and 1990s.
Several of the patrolmen on movie details convinced the naïve producers — most of whom were from California, New York and abroad — to pay them for the job they were doing, even though they were already on patrol and collecting their regular salaries. Some of these clever cops took these producers’ naïveté a step or two further. They charged producers for the rental of city-owned equipment such as barricades, squad cars, horses, police dogs and other city property and they pocketed the money. The city didn’t make a dime on these deals and it didn’t become known until the late 80s when the whistle was blown and several cops were indicted for payroll fraud. At least one conviction resulted.
Two or three cops in particular outdid their counterparts on these movie details. They muscled in on the movies themselves and convinced the producers to let them appear on-camera. And, since they were given “speaking roles,” they received SAG-scale (Screen Actors Guild) wages and were paid as actors — even though their speaking roles may have been limited to a line or two. Some of the more devious cops managed to get their families into the act — literally — with on-camera roles or by providing ancillary services. The wife of one of these actor/cops was a nurse and she provided on-site “medical services” for the cast and crew; for pay, of course. Family members of other officers were awarded lucrative food catering deals, according to anonymous informed sources within the city’s film industry.
During this golden age of NOPD corruption, it was discovered that some officers of the K-9 Corps were secretly leasing city-owned police dogs to breeders in exchange for “stud fees,” the way horse breeders do with thoroughbred stallions. The city didn’t make a dime on these deals, either, but the K-9 officers were obviously making considerably more than that.
According to other published reports, several detectives in charge of tracking down ownership of stolen vehicles made little or no effort to do so. Knowing that the owners would be compensated by their insurance companies, these detectives kept the choicest vehicles for themselves and sold some of the others on the side. They would claim that they couldn’t locate the vehicles’ owners when, in truth, they never really tried. They hadn’t bothered to record the vehicles’ VIN (serial) numbers, run them through the Motor Vehicle Office’s database, or pick up a phone book and contact the owners.
A number of NOPD officers, while on paid details for French Quarter nightclubs, began shaking down the owners for “protection” like big-city gangsters of the Roaring 20s. One officer, while on a private detail in a French Quarter club, looted the club’s cash drawer, telling the flabbergasted owner that he was doing an undercover investigation and he needed the money as “evidence.” Other officers on bar details, while not stealing or engaging in other crooked practices, were observed to be drinking on the job.
One officer in particular, who had once been fired from the department for theft, then rehired, was regularly shaking down a naïve foreign-born gas station/convenience store operator. He would demand $100 a week for “protection” and help himself to free food and drinks during his visits. His “protection,” according to an article in the Times-Picayune, was nothing more than including the facility on his regular nightly patrol, for which he was already being paid his regular salary.
Other abuses abounded within the department. One officer was kicked off the force for forging a signature on another officer’s paycheck and trying to cash it. Incredibly, nine years later, that same officer was allowed to reenter the department’s Police Academy until word of it leaked out. One of the treasurers of PANO was dismissed from his position for embezzling over $200,000 from the union’s coffers. Many officers were taking their squad cars home with them for private use, filling their tanks at city expense.
One veteran officer, who had risen to the second-highest departmental echelon, that of Deputy Superintendent, began publicly flaunting his exalted ranking. He appeared in public wearing $800 Armani suits, gold cufflinks and other expensive jewelry. It was also reputed that he had an extensive collection of fine wines in his lavish, six-figure home. It wasn’t long before the knowledge of his extra curricular activities became a matter of public record. He was linked to Las Vegas mob-based gambling interests and reputed to be a partner in a company dealing in video poker machines and other gaming equipment, just as casino gambling was becoming legal in New Orleans. He was even photographed walking alongside a notorious organized crime figure in the airport in Vegas. When asked to comment on the affluent lifestyle he appeared to be enjoying while a member of one of the nation’s lowest-paid police departments, he proclaimed, “I didn’t take a vow of poverty when I joined the department.”
This particular high-ranking police official, who was later discharged from his duties and drummed out of the department in disgrace, was a member of NOPD’s “Old Guard.” This loosely grouped cadre of officers consisted of predominantly white veterans whose hiring predated opening the ranks to members of minority groups. Within the department, they formed an exclusive clique and, within that clique were sub-cliques. Officers in these groups had their respective “turfs,” mostly those having to do with brokering private details. They were more loyal to each other than they were to their individual districts or the department and its brass, as a whole. They hung together and often covered for each other when citizen complaints were filed against one of their number.

‘The Desire Terrorist’

Len Davis was an intimidating presence. Standing more than six feet tall and weighing over 200 pounds, he had acquired a fearsome reputation on both sides of the law by the time he reached his early 30s. Growing up in the projects and on the streets of the city’s Ninth Ward, he was tough and mean. Before enrolling in the New Orleans Police Academy, in 1987, he had already accumulated a record from the department on which he would later serve.
Two years before he began his police training, according to published reports, he had been arrested for battery, urinating in public and an undisclosed charge on a municipal warrant. Apparently these offenses were forgiven as he was allowed to enter the academy but, while there, he was suspended for unspecified “disciplinary reasons.” He was allowed to resume his training several months later, after working a few months as a patrol officer on the academy grounds.
However, once he became a certified police officer, Davis’ offenses began piling up in earnest. The Times-Picayune reported that, during his seven-year career at NOPD, most of which was in the city’s Fifth Police District, Davis was suspended four times and officially reprimanded twice. One of his suspensions lasted 51 days after he was accused of beating a woman in the head with his flashlight in 1992. Numerous complaints were filed against him with Internal Affairs and the OMI. More than 20 of these complaints were never acted upon by either agency. The accusations against Davis included brutality, physical intimidation, discourtesy and theft. Quite a shabby record for one of the city’s “finest.”
“He’s got an internal affairs jacket (file) as thick as a telephone book,” one unidentified officer commented to a Times-Picayune reporter, shortly after Davis’ arrest for orchestrating Groves’s murder. Writing in the Times-Picayune on December 9, 1994, James Gill said, “though the competition is tough, Len Davis may just be the most dangerous criminal ever to have worn the uniform of a New Orleans police officer.”
Yet, despite the numerous complaints and departmental charges against him, Davis had received two medals from NOPD during his tenure. One of these was the department’s second-highest honor, the Medal of Merit. In 1993, Davis and Williams were honored for chasing down and arresting two teenagers who had robbed a supermarket. These achievements, however, were overwhelmingly overshadowed by Davis’ negative side of the ledger.

The ‘Bloody Fifth’

The Fifth District, known locally at the time as the “Bloody Fifth,” accounted for the largest percentage of the city’s murders in its record-breaking year of 1994. Nearly one-third of them — 145 out of 421 — took place within its boundaries. Many of these murders occurred in the Desire and Florida housing projects. The street that was the destination of the streetcar in Tennessee Williams’s famous play was anything but “desirable” during the 1980s and 1990s. The sound of gunfire, often between warring drug gangs, was an all-too-familiar sound to its residents. Even innocent bystanders, including children, became tragic statistics when a stray bullet put an end to their lives.
Police Wards, New Orleans
Police Wards, New Orleans
For many years, the Fifth District had been known as a “dumping ground” for some of NOPD’s most troublesome officers. In 1985, an officer named Lloyd Dickerson was arrested for a string of armed robberies he was accused of pulling off while in uniform patrolling the district. He confessed to freebasing cocaine and apparently needed the money to feed his habit. In his confession, he implicated ten other officers, nine of whom were also assigned to the Fifth. However, instead of trying to clean up the problems within the department, the top brass merely shifted personnel around. As quoted in the Times-Picayune, the director of the city’s police watchdog agency, the Metropolitan Crime Commission, accused them of “sweeping the problems under the rug.”
Davis not only fit in well with this bad company in the “Bloody Fifth,” he exemplified it. A local minister, who had accompanied several Desire project residents to IAD to complain about Davis, called him the “Desire Terrorist.” Davis, the minister told an interviewer from the Times-Picayune, “was very brutal.” The situation got so bad that residents appealed to the city councilman representing the district. The councilman reportedly requested that Davis be transferred out the neighborhood.
But, even while being reassigned to another area, Davis continued to haunt his old stomping grounds and hang with his old criminal buddies. One of those he frequently hung with was Paul “Cool” Hardy. No stranger to NOPD’s records office himself, Hardy was a notorious drug dealer who had twice been arrested on murder charges but cleared. Like Davis, he also had a fearsome reputation on the street as one to not be messed with. That reputation was enough to scare off any potential witnesses who could have fingered and testified against him, especially because he was rumored to be a cold-blooded killer with a fearsome arsenal at his disposal.
Davis and Hardy, along with a coterie of other crooked cops and known desperadoes, hung out regularly together at sleazy bars on Downman Road and Chef Menteur Highway close to the city’s Lower Ninth Ward. Among them were Sammie Williams, Davis’s partner on the job and in crime. They went to one of these dives to celebrate on the night Groves was murdered.

The Sting

In late 1993, according to court documents, a New Orleans crack cocaine dealer named Terry Adams went to the local FBI office, complaining of extortion by NOPD officer Sammie Williams. This was apparently a common practice around that time. Cops would extort money from dealers in exchange for looking the other way. Adams was offered a deal by the agency if he would cooperate in their investigation. A sting operation was set up, headed by Neil Gallagher, special agent-in-charge of the local FBI office.
Neil Gallagher
Neil Gallagher
Acting on the FBI’s instructions, Adams asked Williams to protect his drug-dealing operations and he offered to pay for Williams’s services. Williams accepted and he brought Davis, his partner, into the operation. Undercover agents posing as dealers issued beepers and cellphones to them and these were wiretapped.
Williams and Davis began guarding a warehouse near the New Orleans riverfront where the coke was being stored and they soon brought other police officers into the plan. Seven other officers of the New Orleans Police Department were given round-the-clock details guarding the drugs. According to later published reports, there were between 100 and 150 kilos of crack to guard, for which Davis and Williams were paid a total of close to $100,000. From this sum they paid the other officers on guard details.
In meetings with Adams, who was clandestinely “wired,” Davis was heard telling him, “Never use words like dope.’ Never use words like How much I gotta pay.’ Don’t use them kind of words Just say business,’ stereo,’ whatever And when we meet you, don’t use words like dope.’”
Later in the conversation, Williams is heard saying, “I just want s— to go smooth; that’s why I’m telling you we could be in a business. We got that protection.”
In May 1994, in full view of a hidden TV camera, Davis and Williams were captured on videotape entering a New Orleans hotel room to meet with the undercover FBI informant who they thought was the mastermind of the drug smuggling operation. As they entered the room, the two officers stripped down to their underwear to show they weren’t wired for recording devices. Half-naked pictures of them made the front page of the Times-Picayune on December 13, 1994, shortly after knowledge of the sting operation became public.
They then discussed specifics of the operation with an black undercover agent named J.J. (Juan Jackson, probably a pseudonym). At the end of the videotape, Davis is heard saying, “There might be people you’re dealing with who are into you. We shouldn’t be using words like cocaine.’”
Following the meeting, Davis recruited seven fellow officers to guard the cocaine warehouse in 12-hour shifts. They were Sgt. Carlos Rodriguez and patrolmen Adam Dees, Christopher Evans, Keith Johnson, Sheldon Polk, Bryant “Brinky” Brown and Larry Smith. According to published reports and court records, they worked a total of six paid details at the warehouse, each detail lasting two to four days. Each officer worked at least two details, during which time more than 100 kilograms of cocaine passed through the building.
At one point during the summer of 1994, while the operation was going on, some of the officers complained about sitting outside the warehouse in their un-air conditioned patrol cars. They requested an air-conditioned van and one was provided for them by FBI agents posing as drug dealers. Unbeknownst to them, the van was wired to FBI headquarters.
Recordings made from the bugged van revealed an even more seamy side to the underworld mentality of certain members of the New Orleans Police Department. In one conversation, Brown and Dees discussed betraying their buddies and taking over the operation themselves. They talked about ripping off the drug dealers and possibly even killing them. According to transcripts provided to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and reported in the Times-Picayune, Brown is quoted as saying, “I don’t want to meet them. I don’t want them meeting us because I’ll be the one to take em out. If they get tired, boom.”
While the drugs were making their way onto the streets of New Orleans, some of the officers involved in the operation escorted the undercover agents who were posing as dealers. According to published reports and court documents, they did this in uniform and while driving their patrol cars. Among those who were later convicted of participating in protecting the transport of these drugs were Reserve Sheriff’s Deputy Darrel Jones, and NOPD patrolmen Leon Duncan, Lemmie Rodgers and Edward “Peanut” Williams.
As the operation proceeded, the FBI kept close tabs on it, hoping in the end to snag as many as 20 NOPD officers who they could then charge with a wide range of crimes. The big bust, it was hoped, would send a message to other officers of the department to clean up their acts or, if their acts were already clean, to keep them that way.
However, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. The murder of Kim Groves and the very real possibility of more killings to come forced the agency to abort the operation sooner than planned.

The Lower Ninth and the World of Kim Groves

The Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans lies between the Industrial Canal which connects the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, the St. Bernard Parish (county) line, South Claiborne Avenue and the river. It is a predominantly black neighborhood of small corner groceries, small corner bars and just about as many small churches as there are groceries and bars combined. It is one of the poorest and least gentrified sections of the city. Rock and roll immortal Fats Domino, who grew up in the Lower Ninth, has his opulent home at Caffin and St. Claude avenues but it is one of only a few nice houses in that part of the city.
Industrial Canal
Most of the houses in the Lower Ninth are of the “shotgun” type; long and narrow with front living rooms, a rear kitchen and a continuous series of rooms between them. Many of these shotguns, including those that are inhabited, are run-down and rickety.  Dating back to the early 20th century, many of them have never had a new coat of paint or even the most routine maintenance since they were built. As the neighborhood joke goes, “The only thing keeping these houses together is the termites holding hands.”
The home that Kim Marie Groves shared with her 78-year-old grandmother, Georgia Falls, and her three teenage children, was one of many like it in the Lower Ninth. They lived in the 1300 block of Alabo Street which runs from above South Claiborne to the river. Groves worked as a part-time security guard at the Louisiana Superdome, struggling as best she could to support her kids and her grandmother. Her boyfriend’s name was Sylvester “Jimmy” Jones.
1300 block of Alabo St.
During Davis’ trial, it was revealed that Groves and Jones had quite a number of fights, some of which were extremely violent. Groves received serious bruises as a result of some of them and at least once she required hospitalization. She was also into drugs. When the autopsy was done on her body at Charity Hospital, traces of crack were found in her system and drug-delivery paraphernalia was found in her possession. Kim Groves did not have an easy or especially pleasant life.
However, for the most part, she lived on the right side of the law. On October 11, 1994, she was doing her duty as a good citizen in reporting an instance of police brutality that she witnessed. She filed a report with Internal Affairs in which she claimed to have seen Sammie Williams chasing a teenager named Nathan Norwood and hitting him in the head with the butt of his pistol. Williams and Davis were reportedly trying to track down a suspect in the shooting of police officer Michael Mims but, when they approached Norwood, he ran and they gave chase.
Williams later admitted in court that he struck Norwood with his gun and let him go when it turned out he wasn’t the suspect they were seeking. Groves came up to them and demanded to know why Williams assaulted her “nephew” and, reportedly, some heated words were exchanged. Groves reported the incident to IAD and she picked the two officers out of a photo lineup.
Even though reports to IAD by private citizens were supposed to be kept in confidence, somehow Davis found out who filed it the same day or the next. In a twisted way, he interpreted it to be a complaint against him and he swore vengeance against Groves and IAD.  His expletive-filled tirades against her and the department’s complaint investigation division were captured on audio tape from bugged cell phone calls. A nightmarish vigil was about to begin.

Murder for Hire

Late in the afternoon of October 13, the death watch on Groves had begun. At 5:09 p.m., Davis was recorded in a phone conversation as saying, “I can get P. [Paul Hardy] to come and do that [expletive deleted] now and then we can handle the 30″ (signal 30, police jargon for murder).
Paul Hardy
Paul Hardy
An hour later, Davis and Hardy got into a phone conversation in which Davis invited Hardy and some other friends to come to the district police station to look at some photos of murder victims. (At that time, a number of police officers on the scene of murders were taking unauthorized, graphically detailed and gruesome pictures of victims and they derived a perverse pleasure in showing them off to their friends.) Then the discussion turned to Groves.
Len Davis
Len Davis
Davis told Hardy that, earlier that day, Groves was in a car with Norwood and his twin brother and they pulled up alongside Davis and Williams’ patrol car at a traffic light. Groves could be seen pointing and saying, “That’s them. That’s them.” Davis snarled back at them, through a closed window, “I see you too.” Then he began describing her to Hardy, including the clothing she was wearing.
As the night wore on, Davis stalked the neighborhood where Groves lived, hoping to spot her. He and Hardy had worked out a system of codes for notifying each other. Each would put a certain number of numerals into the other’s beeper and that would be a signal to call on the cell phone. Early in the evening, Hardy hung out at his girlfriend, Toni Van Buren’s apartment, awaiting word from Davis when and where to strike. Between 9:45 and 9:49 p.m., Davis impatiently asked Hardy, “Y’all ain’t went and handled y’all’s business?” Hardy replied that he had to drop his children off but now he was on the way back to the Lower Ninth.
At 10:01 p.m., as Hardy was making his way down to the Lower Ninth, Davis got her in his sights while she was talking to another person outside her home in the 1300 block of Alabo. He described to Hardy what she was wearing. She had on faded black jeans with large white bleach stains on the front of the legs and a black coat that came down to around her thighs. “I got the phone on and the radio. After it [the murder] is done, go straight uptown and call me,” Davis said to him.
In a 1991 Nissan Maxima driven by Steve Jackson with Causey in the front seat, Hardy drew closer to his prey. Parking a few blocks away, around the corner from where Groves was standing, Jackson shut off the vehicle and Hardy got out sometime shortly before 11 p.m. He walked calmly up to Groves, fired his 9 mm Baretta pistol at her head and felled her with a single bullet. Racing back to Jackson’s car, the trio took off back toward the Florida projects.
Responding quickly to the sound of gunfire, Groves’ neighbors responded quickly and raced to her aid. One of them wrapped a towel around Groves’ bleeding head. Still breathing when the EMTs arrived, she was raced to Charity Hospital about ten miles away on the other side of town. However, by the time of her arrival, Kim Marie Groves, a 32-year-old mother of three, was dead.

‘Rock-a-Bye Baby’

After Groves’ killers crossed the Florida Avenue Bridge and disposed of the most incriminating part of the murder weapon, they returned to the Florida project area. At 11:10 p.m., Davis called Williams from the Downman Road bar he was hanging out in and told him, “Signal 30. NAT [necessary action taken].” He was referring to the Groves murder, which he had heard about minutes earlier in conversations with other officers investigating the murder scene. Several other calls, including one to patrolman Gary Washington, who was processing the scene, confirmed the identity of the murder victim.
In a conversation between Davis, Hardy and Williams at 11:22 p.m., a thumping sound was heard on the FBI tapes. Williams later testified that it was Davis striking the hood of the car joyfully with his cellphone, celebrating Groves’ murder. “It’s the [expletive deleted],” Williams was heard saying. “It’s confirmed, daddy.” Davis joined in and shouted, “Yeah, yeah, yeah! Rock-a-bye,” an expression picked up from the movie New Jack City indicating a murder has been committed.
An hour and a half later, Davis was having a conversation with Williams, who was off duty at that time. They discussed the situation involving Williams’ assault on Nathan Norwood and Davis vented his anger against IAD and the numerous citizen complaints against him.
At 1:19 a.m., October 14, two and a half hours after Groves’ murder, Davis was still exulting and unrepentant. In a tape-recorded conversation with his girlfriend named Shantrice, he said, “Man, that [expletive deleted] was dead when she left the scene.” An hour earlier, he had told Shantrice that it was Hardy’s 27th birthday “and he took care of that little business for me. I’m take care of that [expletive deleted] tomorrow.” Davis reportedly paid Hardy $300 for killing Groves.
Three days later, around 9 p.m., Davis and Hardy had another conversation regarding the Norwood twins. Davis explained that neither of the twins appeared to be planning to report him and Williams to IAD and, since that was the case, “then we gonna let that go. . . . Long as that [expletive deleted] not tryin’ to lie on me . . . we gonna let that s— go. We ain’t got no [expletive deleted] problem with em. But if I hear any [expletive deleted] thing come up about that s— with them lies, then, hey, rock-a-bye baby.”
Three days after that, Davis was on a cellphone conversation with Causey, telling him that the best time to commit crimes is during police shift changes. There is generally a 15-20 minute gap before the new patrol cars hit the streets. The nature of the crimes being referred to here was not specified, but authorities, piecing together clues, theorized that more turf war-related killings may have been planned.
FBI logo
FBI logo
While all this was going on, the horrified FBI saw the situation they had created running amok. They had hoped to nail 20 or more officers on drug violations and now they had more problems on their hands than they had bargained for. Now there were murders to deal with, and the possibility of more to come. Ten months after it began, the decision was made to shut down the sting before it spiraled any further out of control before any more casualties could result.

A Wave of Arrests

In early December 1994, the trap was sprung. Davis and his partners in crime were arrested. When the existence of the tapes that led to the arrests was made public, questions arose immediately. Why hadn’t the FBI taken action to prevent Groves’ murder once they heard it being plotted?
The agency’s official position was that they didn’t know a murder-for-hire scheme was in the works. Even though commonly understood police terms such as [Signal] “30″ were being used by Davis, the FBI’s lack of knowledge of New Orleans street jargon prevented them from interpreting the clues that were laid out before them. Consequently, they were not held officially accountable for failing to prevent the death of Groves.
When details of what the sting uncovered were made public, the city was horrified and shocked beyond belief. The lead paragraph of an editorial in Gambit, dated December 13, 1994, began with the words “Our worst nightmare has been realized. Cops and drug-dealers allegedly working together to kill law-abiding citizens who dare to report police atrocities to supervisors at the New Orleans Police Department.”
Nine officers including Davis and Williams were arrested in the sting. Never in the long history of the New Orleans Police Department had so many of its officers been rounded up for criminal acts at one time. Never had there been charges as serious as those handed down. Never had there been such a widespread violation of the public trust.
Indictments and charges were filed immediately. Pennington moved swiftly in subpoenaing those suspected of having knowledge of the drug-running operation. Officers were isolated from each other to keep them from concocting and collaborating on alibis that they were conducting legitimate undercover investigations. Pennington then suspended all nine officers from the NOPD force.
To keep the feds involved and try the case in federal district court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office arraigned Davis, Hardy and Causey on three counts each of federal charges, mainly stemming from violations of the civil rights of Kim Marie Groves. Steve Jackson and Sammie Williams quickly struck deals with U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan and his staff, agreeing to give testimony against the trio in exchange for lighter sentences (Williams was handed a lesser charge of cocaine possession in April 1995). The Davis civil rights violation case was assigned to Federal District Court Judge Ginger Berrigan, a one-time head of the Louisiana Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. In January 1995, Davis, Hardy and Causey entered pleas of not-guilty.
Eddie Jordan, Attorney
Eddie Jordan, Attorney
Deemed too dangerous to put back out on the streets, Davis, Hardy and Causey were ordered held without bond. Bond was also denied to “Brinky” Brown and Adam Dees because of their recorded threats against the federal undercover agents and to Keith Johnson because of an unspecified pending criminal charge. Bond for Sgt. Rodriguez and patrolmen Christopher  Evans, Larry Smith and Sheldon Polk was set at $100,000. In a statement quoted in the Times-Picayune on December 14, U.S. District Magistrate Lance Africk said, “It is the position of the government that each of these so-called cops is a disgrace and a menace.”

The Cleanup Begins

While the cases against the officers and their accomplices were being prepared by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Pennington was taking the first steps toward reforming NOPD. With the blessings of the Morial administration and the overwhelming support of the public, he began raising the standards for acceptance to the Police Academy. In early January 1995, he fired six new recruits-in-training for “prior arrests, unfavorable military records and unacceptable employment histories” and began a policy of zero tolerance toward those deemed unfit to wear the NOPD uniform.
Pennington also revamped the Internal Affairs Division, renaming it the Public Integrity Division, and he moved it out of police headquarters to ensure confidentiality to citizens lodging complaints. Many citizens had reportedly been intimidated by the presence of so many police officers when they went to HQ to file a report with IAD. Pennington also announced that the FBI would have agents working directly with the department to help upgrade its standards and weed out corruption. Several new homicide detectives were added to the department as well. In addition, he made it harder for the department to expunge records of the officers under his command.
In the years to come, Pennington would significantly upgrade the department’s communications network, installing modern computers and other technological improvements. A COMSTAT program he instituted solidified all districts and their commanders into a more cohesive unit encompassing the entire city. Prior to that, each district operated semi-autonomously. The lack of consistent contact between them hampered the effectiveness of the entire police department, giving the upper hand to the criminals who exploited this chaos to their advantage. Community policing was stepped up, involving more citizens in the process, and police substations were established in some of the more troubled housing projects and neighborhoods.
Pennington also issued a department-wide ban on officers pulling details at bars or other venues where the sale of alcohol is a primary revenue source. In an effort to get a handle on off-duty details and break up unsanctioned detail-brokering, he mandated that all details be cleared by and paid through his office. Officers were prohibited from working more than 20 hours a week on details. Ranking officers were forbidden to work details under lower ranking patrolmen and Pennington also clamped down on officers profiting from the leasing of police equipment, horses and K-9 dogs.
The superintendent’s edicts on details were opposed by PANO and several members of the City Council, which controlled the department’s purse strings. However, Pennington mollified them somewhat by pledging to push for pay raises that would help the officers make up for their losses. Later that year a 5% raise was enacted and more would come later.

Another Police Murder/The Feds Build Their Case

While the feds were detaining the suspects in the Groves murder and building their case against them, another major police atrocity occurred in the early morning hours of March 4, 1995. Accompanied by a younger male accomplice, Patrolman Antoinette Frank, 23, with only two years on the force, held up a Vietnamese restaurant in eastern New Orleans. When 25 year old Patrolman Ronald Williams II, working an off-duty detail at the restaurant, responded to the crisis, Frank shot him to death. Then she shot two of the Vietnamese owner’s family members as they knelt in prayer pleading for mercy.
Officer Ronald Williams
Officer Ronald Williams
Frank left the scene, and then returned in a patrol car as if in response to the call but she was fingered by a witness who had survived by hiding out in the restaurant’s meat locker. Frank and her accomplice were arrested and, once again, the city went into shock at yet another revelation of a murdering cop.
Antoinette Frank
Antoinette Frank
A March 14 editorial in Gambit proclaimed “We spoke too soon,” referring to its editorial of three months earlier that said, “Our worst nightmare has been realized” in reference to the Davis case. The March 14 editorial went on to say, “Our worst nightmare has been surpassed.” It was the first time a New Orleans police officer murdered another officer since 1917 when Police Chief James Reynolds was assassinated by a suspended patrolman.
What made it even more shocking was that Williams and Frank had once been partners. They had reportedly done details at the same restaurant. It was the tragic conclusion to a week that saw 21 murders, the bloodiest week in the city’s nearly 300-year history.
New Orleans went into mourning as the funeral was held for Williams on March 6. His death left behind a young widow with a five-year-old son and another son born just nine days earlier. Later the same year, Frank and her accomplice were convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
In June 1995, information was released that Federal U.S. attorneys would be seeking the death penalty against Davis and Hardy. Because of technicalities in federal statutes, the government was precluded from charging them with murder, so they were charged instead on civil rights violations. It was the first time in history that the government sought the death penalty for civil rights violations. Causey, for his lesser role in the Groves murder, was not named in the ruling handed down by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
Janet Reno
Janet Reno
As the year wore on, the government continued to piece together its case. Gallagher left New Orleans in August to return to Washington but his successor at the local FBI office continued to supply the U.S. Attorney’s Office with vital evidence it had accumulated during the clandestine NOPD probe.
In October local civil rights attorney Mary E. Howell filed a civil lawsuit against the city, NOPD, the previous three police superintendents and a current assistant superintendent, as well as against Davis, Williams, Hardy, Causey and Jackson. The suit was filed on behalf of Groves’ three minor children, her grandmother and father and Nathan Norwood. The lawsuit alleged that the city should not have hired Davis but, since it did, it and NOPD were responsible for the aberrations in his behavior that led to Groves’ death. As of April 28, 2005, the suit had still not been settled, according to a spokesperson for Howell’s office.
On October 23, a year and ten days after Groves was murdered, shots were fired in the direction of the house where Groves’ grandmother and orphaned children still lived. Stephanie Groves, the victim’s 16-year-old daughter, was grazed by buckshot and a 20-year-old cousin was slightly wounded in the back. Both survived and there was speculation that Davis and Hardy had orchestrated a revenge attack from their jail cells. However, investigators later concluded that the shots were randomly fired in a drive-by shootout between drug dealers warring for turf.
The year 1995 ended with fewer murders than there had been the previous year — 395 as opposed to 421 — although all of the other violent crimes showed increases. The city and its reputation were still hurting but the numbers were on the way down and, ever so slowly, confidence was beginning to return to the department and the populace.

A Chilling Trial: Part 1 — The Prosecution Attacks

In early April 1996, Judge Berrigan faced a moral dilemma. Prior to her nomination to the federal bench three years earlier she headed the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and was a staunch opponent of capital punishment. Now, as the judge assigned to the Len Davis case, she would have to preside over a trial in which the death penalty might await two of the defendants if they were found guilty.
Judge Ginger Berrigan
Judge Ginger Berrigan
Jury selection began on Monday, April 8. Forty-two prospective jurors were interviewed on that day and, by Thursday, April 11, more than eighty others would undergo similar scrutiny. The final selection of twelve jurors and four alternates included eleven women and five men, four of whom were black (three women and one man). The trial jury included only one black woman.
In a touch of irony, on April 9, the two owners of one of the New Orleans area’s largest gun shops were convicted of selling firearms to convicted felons, minors and out-of-state residents — all violations of federal statutes. This was the same shop where Paul Hardy reportedly bought his weapons, including the gun used to kill Kim Groves.
Opening arguments began on Monday, April 15 as a team of determined prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s office began laying out their case. The team consisted of Constantine Georges, Michael McMahon, Peter McCloskey and Nelson Thayer. U.S. Attorney Jordan made an opening statement and popped in frequently during the two-week trial but he did not actively participate in the questioning of witnesses. The defense attorneys were Dwight Doskey and Milton Masinter for Davis, Patrick McGinity and Dan Markey for Hardy and Henry Julien for Causey.
Witnesses called by the government included a number of NOPD officers and rank and file patrolmen who participated in the investigation of Groves’ murder. They also included a forensic pathologist, FBI agents, a ballistics expert and a diver who recovered the barrel of the murder weapon from the bottom of the Industrial Canal. The police officials and patrolmen included the sergeant who investigated Groves’ complaint to IAD, officers who responded to the signal 30 when Groves was shot and those who handled the follow-up investigation.
The FBI agents included some who had listened to the tapes made of Davis and his cohorts and the 911 calls that had gone out in connection with the Groves shooting. The ballistics experts confirmed that the fatal shot that killed Groves was, indeed, from a 9 mm Beretta. The forensic expert, in addition to confirming the manner of Groves’ death, also testified to the presence of cocaine and cocaine metabolites in her system during the autopsy.
A similar 9-mm Beretta pistol
A similar 9-mm Beretta pistol
One of the homicide detectives investigating the murder verified that a glass pipe and steel rod used to ingest cocaine had been found in Groves’ possession and the pipe tested positive for cocaine residue. Other detectives who had participated in the search of two apartments inhabited by Hardy testified to finding a virtual arsenal in each place, including a Ruger, loaded magazines for an AK 47 rifle and a number of smaller pistols. Crack cocaine, measuring scales and roughly $4,000 in cash were also found, according to published reports.
But the star witnesses for the prosecution were Williams and Jackson. During his lengthy testimony on the stand, Jackson admitted to being “in the game.”  Among other things that meant being a drug dealer, convicted felon and attempted murderer. When asked if Causey was “in the game,” he replied affirmatively. He also admitted driving Hardy and Causey to the murder scene in his blue 1991 Nissan Maxima.
Describing the scenario that led up to the shooting, Jackson said he dropped Hardy off around the corner from where Groves was, parked the car and waited until Hardy came running back. “I hit the b—-,” Jackson quoted Hardy as saying. On the way back to the Florida project, Jackson said, Hardy unscrewed the gun’s barrel, threw it into the Industrial Canal and replaced it with a new barrel. Hardy then gave the gun to Causey, Jackson told the court.
The next day, according to Jackson, Hardy had said to him, “Lennie kept bothering him about doing this.” Although admitting under oath that he couldn’t be positive “Lennie” meant Len Davis, he seemed certain that that’s who it was.
Under cross-examination from defense attorneys, Jackson admitted to his own criminal record and acknowledged that he had initially lied to the FBI. Also under cross-examination, when asked if he was a friend of Hardy’s, Jackson replied, “I’m a friend of his, but he’s not to be trusted. He killed seven people from the neighborhood, seven neighbors, then killed another in the neighborhood.”
Williams’s testimony was even longer and more explicit in many ways. He admitted that, during the chase on October 11, 1994, he had hit Norwood on the back of the head with his service revolver. He also admitted to having a verbal exchange with Groves when she confronted him about the assault and, under cross-examination, he also admitted that it wasn’t Davis who assaulted Norwood. Nonetheless, Davis “got real angry and stated that he was tired of IAD and that he was going to send them a message.”
While prosecutors played chilling excerpts of tapes to a somber, stone-faced jury, Williams described the scene that evolved over a six-hour period on October 13, 1994 as Davis stalked Groves’ neighborhood, looking to set her up for Hardy to come in and make the kill. At approximately 10:50 that night Williams said he got the “signal 30 NAT” call from Davis, indicating that the deed was done. In all, about 25 tapes or excerpts from them were played for the jury during the prosecution’s portion of the trial.
Under withering cross-examination, during which time defense attorneys tried to torpedo Williams’s credibility and plant “reasonable doubt” into the minds of the jury, Williams stuck by his story. He explained that he, not Davis, should have been the one Groves filed the brutality complaint against but he did not try to talk Davis out of the murder or of being angry with IAD. He acknowledged that there was no tape recording in which Davis told him he wanted to kill Groves. And finally, at the end of his testimony, Williams said he thought Davis was a good cop.

A Chilling Trial: Part 2 — The Defense Counters

After the feds rested their case, the defense began calling its stable of witnesses, starting with Pennington. The logic of calling the superintendent as a defense witness puzzled reporters and observers in the courtroom. Nothing Pennington said could have been interpreted as benefiting Davis. Davis and his attorneys had been claiming that he was independently carrying out his own drug investigation and Pennington admitted that there, indeed, had been some drug investigations going on without his knowledge. However, he quickly added that all such investigations by street-level officers had to be cleared by a supervisor ahead of time. Davis had no such clearance, the superintendent emphasized.
In further attempting to create reasonable doubt, the defense, through its witnesses, tried to cloud the issue over what was on the FBI and 911 tapes which recorded varying descriptions of the vehicle that fled the crime scene after Groves’ murder. The getaway car was originally described as being “champagne colored” but later descriptions had it as “blue.” Also at issue was the fact that the original 911 tapes no longer existed. They had been inadvertently erased and taped over because there was reportedly a tape shortage in the department. Defense attorneys claimed that these tapes would have exonerated their clients.
Steve Jackson’s attorney was called to testify on details of the plea bargaining deal that kept his client from being named a co-defendant. Groves’ boyfriend, Sylvester “Jimmy” Jones, testified that the two of them had fought on a number of occasions during their four-year relationship and that at least one of those fights landed Groves in the hospital. Jones also acknowledged three felony convictions, all of them in 1984, but he denied killing Groves.
Two other defense witnesses included Roland Smith and Lorraine Ford, an unmarried couple who lived together in Groves’ neighborhood and who knew both Groves and Jones. Smith recounted a number of violent fights between Groves and Jones and told the court he was about two blocks away when Groves was shot. He said he saw the murderer run toward a nearby waiting vehicle but was unable to describe the assailant in the dark.
Ford, who was closer to the scene, described the perpetrator as a black male who fit Jones’s description. Her description was corroborated by two NOPD detectives who took down Ford’s statement shortly after the murder. One of the detectives testified that Ford told him Groves and Jones had had an argument earlier that day and that she heard Groves cry out a name that sounded like “Jimmy” as she was shot.
The defense also called in its own ballistics expert to refute the government’s contention that they had the actual murder weapon in their possession. Testimony from defense witnesses from the FBI and NOPD’s IAD appeared to further obfuscate the issue of the tapes. Another defense witness, NOPD Lieutenant Bruce Adams, told the court that there had been two covert narcotics investigations during and immediately after the time of the Groves murder — “Rock-a-bye One” and “Rock-a-bye Two.” But, under government cross-examination, Adams admitted that Davis was not a part of either investigation. When asked why, Adams replied, “His reputation, mainly.”
Also called as defense witnesses were a number of friends of the defendants and the girlfriends of Hardy and Causey. Hardy’s girlfriend, Toni Van Buren, said he had been with her and their three young daughters earlier on the evening of October 13 at an apartment they shared in New Orleans East. At approximately, 10:45 p.m., on a phone call, she said she heard Hardy say, “I’m on my way,” but she didn’t know where he was going.
Causey’s girlfriend, Javonda Massey, said the two of them had been eating a late dinner at a Denny’s restaurant miles from the crime scene at the time of the Groves murder. Under cross-examination, she was asked by Georges what she had been doing on the night of November 13, 1994, and one or two other subsequent dates and Massey said she couldn’t remember. “So what made October 13 so special that you would remember?” he countered. Massey replied that that was the date Causey got his state identification card.
A private investigator hired by the defense also testified as to the amount of time it would have taken Hardy to get from where he was that night to the scene of the crime. Following the most direct route and driving at the speed limit, the P.I. clocked his time as longer than that taken by the prosecution’s witness. However, there was a discrepancy between which of two locations Hardy might have started his journey from.
Though the U.S. Attorney’s Office salivated at the prospect of grilling any or all of the three defendants under oath, none of them elected to take the stand in their own defense. According to an article in the April 21 Times-Picayune, Doskey was hinting that Davis might testify. “He really wants to tell his side of the story,” Doskey said, but apparently Davis was dissuaded from doing so.
After the defense rested, it appealed to Berrigan for a mistrial but the request was denied. Both sides began closing arguments to the jury on Monday, April 22.

Closing Arguments

Opening for the government, McCloskey accused Davis of taking it “upon himself to be judge, jury and executioner. He turned into a street killer that day. Mess with me and it’s rock-a-bye-baby.’” McCloskey recited the chain of evidence that linked Davis to the other defendants and to the murder itself, replaying tapes at certain junctures for the jury’s ears. For further emphasis, McCloskey held up the bleach-stained jeans Groves had been wearing at the time of her murder.
Sitting dry-eyed, stoic and solemn in the row in front of me during testimony was Groves’ father, Nathaniel.  During closing arguments, however, I observed him crying into a blue-and-white handkerchief.
Masinter followed, trying desperately to plant doubt in the minds of the jury. He called Williams, Jackson and Larry Smith “government parrots with clipped wings and a golden parachute. They will say anything the government wants them to say in exchange for leniency.” Masinter accused the FBI of “carelessness” in not being able to interpret the tapes’ messages that a murder was about to be committed and he implied that the government was tailoring its evidence to fit the case they had built. Groves’ cocaine habit and her fights with Jones were also mentioned in Masinter’s closing argument.
In his closing argument, McGinity accused the FBI of “trying to prove a preconceived notion” and of “tunnel vision.” He explained to the jury what the concept of “reasonable doubt” entails, calling it “a standard so high that doubt wouldn’t let you go forward.” He attempted to exploit the reasonable doubt issue by citing “inconclusive” test results on the weapon, spent bullet casings, and the time it would have taken Hardy to get to the crime scene, as well as attempting to torpedo Sammie Williams’s credibility.
Closing on behalf of Causey, Julien passed around Causey’s ID card to the jury, showing that it was processed on October 13, 1994 as Massey had testified. He also attempted to undermine the testimony of Williams and Jackson and portray Causey as an innocent victim, “not willing to lie” in exchange for a more lenient deal.
Attorney Mike McMahon
Attorney Mike McMahon
After opening with the statement that the Groves incident “should not have happened in the United States of America,” McMahon accused the defense attorneys of “scrupulously avoid[ing] talking about those tapes. And, you know who else they didn’t talk about?” At that point he held up the blown-up picture of Groves. “Forget about a government conspiracy,” McMahon continued. “That may fly on the West Coast. It won’t fly here,” an obvious reference to the O.J. Simpson case that was making news at the same time in the Los Angeles area.
Addressing the issue of cocaine found in Groves’ system, McMahon didn’t attempt to downplay it. “Some people who are more affluent can go to the Betty Ford Clinic. She (Groves) had to deal with it (her addiction) every day. She had crack in her system. So what. Maybe it made her feel better and got her through the day easier.”
McMahon also defended Williams’s testimony, saying “He has no agreement with the government. He’s looking at a life sentence” for his role in the distribution of 135 grams of cocaine. During his 50-minute closing argument, McMahon repeatedly played the most incriminating excerpts from the FBI tapes for the jury.
Following the final closing argument, Berrigan gave her instructions to the jury, cautioning them to “apply the law as it’s explained to you; not follow your own opinion. Remember that defendants are innocent until proven guilty and only reasonable doubt is necessary.” She also explained the difference between “direct” and “circumstantial” evidence and advised the jurors to exercise caution in accepting the testimony of those who entered into plea bargains with the government.

‘Guilty’

Judge Berrigan
Judge Berrigan
Two days later, the verdicts were announced. Davis and Hardy were found guilty on all three counts. Causey was found guilty on counts one and two, with no verdict on count three. Berrigan declared a mistrial on count three for Causey. Before the jury’s verdict, Causey had been offered a last-minute plea bargain by the government in exchange for his testimony. The deal, which was reportedly recommended to him by Julien, would have given him a 6-9 year sentence instead of life, but Causey rejected it out of loyalty to his friend Davis.
On hearing the verdict, Davis slumped a bit, his steely composure finally caving in to the reality of his situation. Hardy, on the other hand, continued to sport a look of defiance to go with the smile he wore during much of the trial. Commenting on the verdict in the Sunday, April 28 edition of the Times-Picayune, James Gill said, “Hardy represents what is becoming a too-familiar type, the young man without any grasp of the moral precepts that underlie civilized society.”
Shortly after the verdict, Jordan commented to the media, “Kim Groves had a right to complain about the police, even though she was poor; even though she was abused by her boyfriend; even though she abused cocaine. The jury said We are not only protecting the rights of Kim Groves, but the rights of everyone.’”

The Death Sentence

On Friday, April 26, just two days after announcing its guilty verdict for Davis and Hardy, the jury sentenced Davis to death. It became the first death sentence in American history handed down under a modified federal code permitting the death penalty in civil rights cases. Arguing passionately for the death sentence, McMahon told jurors, “Life in prison is too good for him (Davis); he deserves to die for what he did.” Buttressing these arguments was Georges, who asked, “What more does someone have to do to deserve the highest penalty the law provides?”
On May 2, in a separate sentencing trial, the jury also passed down a death sentence for Hardy. Defense attempts to portray him as a caring family man who provided for his children, bought groceries for the poor, donated sneakers to neighborhood youngsters and regularly took his children to church all fell on deaf ears.
As did efforts to make Hardy into a sympathetic victim of his environment who routinely witnessed death, violence and drug abuse while growing up in the B.W. Cooper housing project.
Coincidentally, on the day before Hardy’s sentencing, the head of PANO announced that their longtime treasurer had embezzled about $230,000 from the union’s treasury over a six-year period. A month later, also in Federal District Court, he pled guilty to two counts of forgery and was later sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. He was also ordered to repay the union more than $185,000.
The day after Hardy’s sentencing, the FBI used some of the same tapes to bust a violent drug ring in the same area of the city where Hardy and his gang operated. Fourteen people, including the alleged ringleader, Billy Lampton, were nailed and taken into custody. Lampton was allegedly heard on tape threatening death to those who crossed him. Some of the most menacing of his threats, as quoted in that day’s Times-Picayune, painted a grim picture of the prevailing lawlessness of that time.
In the months to come, the seven officers accused along with Davis of participating in the drug ring pled guilty and received sentences ranging from five to eight years in prison. They were Bryant “Brinky” Brown (eight years); Adam Dees, Sheldon Polk, Carlos Rodriguez, Edward “Peanut” Williams and Keith Johnson (seven years each); and Christopher Evans (five years).
When his trial for drug-running opened on September 10, Davis stood alone. His former partner, Sammie Williams, once again delivered some of the most incriminating testimony against him. Williams’s testimony was largely corroborated by tapes of their conversations which had Davis bragging about spending the money he was getting for the operation. Williams testified that he and Davis received close to $100,000 from Juan Jackson, much of which Davis spent on a clothes-shopping spree at one of the city’s most prestigious men’s shops. Steve Jackson also testified against Davis.
Davis’s new attorney, Patrick Fanning, tried to convince the jury that Davis was running his own clandestine investigation of drug dealing but his arguments failed to sway the jury. McMahon countered that Davis “produced nothing, not one evidence card, not one tape,” that proved he was carrying on this undercover investigation. Only one witness was called for the defense, Terry Adams, who had originally recruited Williams, but his testimony did nothing to exonerate Davis.
On September 13, the jury took only 40 minutes to return a guilty verdict against Davis on the drug charges. Several months later he was sentenced to 15 years in prison, to go with the death sentence already handed down in the Groves case five months earlier.
Following his refusal to accept the U.S. Attorney’s office’s offer of a deal, Causey was sentenced to life imprisonment on November 27.
In early 1997, Davis and Hardy were shipped off to Death Row in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where the government’s lethal injection apparatus was set up. However, years of appeals still lay ahead.
In August 1999, following a long series of appeals, Davis’s sentence was commuted from death to life imprisonment. Five years later, though, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the lower court order and restored the death sentence. Davis remains in federal prison in Terre Haute and more appeals are expected.
On August 26, 1998, Sammie Williams was sentenced to five years in prison. His sentence was 30 months for participating in a drug conspiracy and 30 months for using a gun while dealing drugs. During sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman told Williams, “You have irrevocably stained the uniform you once wore,” but he praised and thanked Williams for his testimony that helped convict Davis and Hardy.
In August 1997, the final chapter of the sordid police saga was wrapped up when Leon Duncan, Darrel Jones and Lemmie Rodgers were indicted for their part in escorting the cocaine shipments under Davis’s and Williams’s supervision. Duncan and Jones were convicted and Duncan appealed his conviction on September 29, 1999.

Aftermath

During the nearly eight years of his administration, Chief Pennington made good on most of the reforms he promised when he took office. The murder rate dropped steadily over his first five years to a low of 159 in 1999. Toward the end of his term they began to climb again, but the overall crime rate in the city continued to decline throughout his tenure. Pay raises that he promised came through as well, at all levels.
Though continuing to arouse the ire of PANO and individual officers for his unrelenting stance on police details and other issues, Pennington was accorded hero and savior status by the New Orleans populace at large. At one point his name recognition was on a par with the mayor and his popularity rating even higher. He would walk into a restaurant for a casual meal and be spontaneously applauded by grateful patrons. On July 8, 1997, Pennington appeared on Court TV with Cochran & Company host Johnnie Cochran and was praised for the “remarkable strides” he made with the department.
Near the close of Marc Morial’s term-limited tenure as mayor in late 2001, Pennington announced his candidacy for mayor. His widespread popularity made him the immediate frontrunner and he held that status over 14 other opponents for most of the campaign. However, two weeks before the February 2 primary, surprise endorsements in the Times-Picayune and Gambit Weekly for businessman and local cable TV executive C. Ray Nagin, quickly eroded Pennington’s support. Nagin finished first in the primary with Pennington second and Nagin handily won the runoff a month later.
Pennington remained on as superintendent until May 21, 2002, when Nagin named his successor. A month later Pennington was hired as Chief of Police for Atlanta where he remains today.
Also in 2002, Eddie Jordan, whose team of assistant U.S. attorneys successfully prosecuted Davis, Hardy and Causey, used the case in his winning campaign to become New Orleans’s first black District Attorney. Constantine Georges, one of the assistant U.S. attorneys prominently involved in the case, was mentioned as a possible successor to Jordan but the position went, instead, to an interim U.S. Attorney. The permanent slot has yet to be filled.
More than ten years have passed since the Davis case made local, national and international headlines. Murders have again started to climb in New Orleans and crime is once again the city’s number one issue. However, the situation has not regressed to the low level it had reached in 1994. Measures are in place to safeguard, as much as possible, re-runs of the abuses that had run rampant at that time. And, in March 2004, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it had finally concluded its ten-year probe of NOPD and noted improvements made during that time.
Above all, morale and a sense of camaraderie seems to have returned to the department. In the fall of 2004, when a young black female officer was killed in the line of duty, her fellow officers held a live concert benefit for her children. The event was well attended, by whites and blacks alike, with some of the city’s top musicians donating their time for the cause. A sizable amount of money was raised, including donations from the city’s philanthropic sector.
“There’s a whole new breed of officers [now],” Pennington said in his 1997 appearance on Court TV. “[They] don’t want to work with those kind of rogue cops.” That sentiment prevails to this day.

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