One night at around 3 AM in September 2009, Henry Davis was pulled over on Interstate 270 in Ferguson, Missouri. The 52-year-old welder was taken to the local jail, where he was booked for driving whole intoxicated and informed that there was already an outstanding warrant for a man with his name—albeit a different middle name.
Once he was confined, according to a federal lawsuit Davis filed in 2010 that was finally allowed to go ahead this week, an inmate in the cell next to his had a mat to sit on. Davis asked Officer John Beaird if he might have one, too.
"Because it's three in the morning," he later testified, according to the Daily Beast. "Who going to sleep on a cement floor?"
According to Davis's suit, that set off an argument that led to five officers swarming the scene, and one named Kim Tihen hitting Davis with a closed fist and with handcuffs, while another cop named Michael White kicked him in the head. Davis's face—as clearly captured by his subsequent booking photo—was soon dripping with blood. Some of it got on the uniforms of Davis's assailants, and he was charged with four counts of property damage.
A US appellate court judge just ruled this past Tuesday that Davis had the right to seek damages from the troubled city, as well as Beaird, White, and Tihen. (According to Reuters, however, the judge—bizarrely—did not allow Davis to dispute the property damage claims.) He's claiming that his civil rights were violated under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
That we might celebrate the fact that a black man who was jailed, brutally beaten, and charged for bleeding on police officers' uniforms being allowed to sue the most notorious small-town police department in the country is a testament to the dire state of affairs in America right now.
Things could well have turned out differently for Davis if it weren't for the events that gripped Ferguson and much of the country almost exactly a year ago. Last August, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot there by a white police officer, setting off protests across the country and a national conversation about the racial politics of policing.
(A grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown and has since left the city's police force, in November.)
In March, the Department of Justice completed an investigation into the municipality which found that police and city officials colluded to prey on minorities as a money-making scheme.
But Davis's lawyer alleged the same kind of behavior six years before that report came out. In the original complaint, he wrote that constitutional misconduct in Ferguson was "persistent and widespread."
Tihen, the officer who allegedly hit Davis with a closed fist, was later elected to the Ferguson City Council. Some news outlets are reporting that she is still in that position, although the council's website does not list her as an active member. When reached by email, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said in an email: "She did not run for re-election in April. Don't believe everything you read in the media. lol."
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