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'I can't breathe,' Buffalo man texted friend before dying in police custody

Text messages that Wardel “Meech” Davis exchanged with a friend a half-hour before his fatal encounter with two Buffalo officers are in the hands of Buffalo police investigators, four police sources have confirmed to The Buffalo News.

The text message exchange, in which Davis informed his friend that he was having trouble breathing, also is part of the state attorney general’s independent investigation into Davis’ death, a fifth source told The News.

A sixth individual who is familiar with the investigation, but not in the police department, provided The News with the text exchange.

All the sources requested that their names be withheld because the local and state investigations are continuing.

The text exchange sheds some new light on what happened the night of Feb. 7, but it is just one piece of a much larger puzzle that investigators are trying to piece together to determine how the 20-year-old Davis died. While a police union official said he believes that this information may contribute to exoneration of two officers, a lawyer representing the woman who was to marry Davis said he was skeptical of the exchange.

Here is that exchange between Davis and his friend:

“I can’t breath” [sic]

“Go To The Hospital Dude.”

“I’m am in a lil bite” [sic]

“No Now”

“After I make a couple dollars”


“Ok I promise.”

Attorney Steven M. Cohen, who represents the woman Davis was engaged to, questioned the messages.

“Given the fact that the police seized the phones of Davis, the working one and the nonworking one, and would not permit my client or me to see the contents, I am forced to be suspicious of whatever data comes from those phones,” Cohen said. “Assuming Meech was in respiratory distress, that belies the officers’ position that they were in a life-and-death struggle.”

But Buffalo Police Benevolent Association President Kevin Kennedy said the texts could play a role in clearing Officers Todd McAlister and Nicholas Parisi of wrongdoing in Davis’ death the night of Feb. 7.

“To me, that reflects he was under medical duress before he interacted with the officers,” Kennedy said of Davis, who was 20, after viewing a copy of the text messages.

Kennedy, though, cautioned about reacting to the texts, saying all of the information from the investigations needs to be gathered and reviewed.

“Let the investigations run their course and get all the information and then assess what it tells us,” he said.

According to police, the officers tried to stop Davis after spotting him leaving 19 Hoyt St., a house known for drug activity, shortly after 11 p.m. When they caught him, a struggle ensued, police said, and eventually the officers subdued and handcuffed him.

Questions linger about the night Meech Davis died in police custody

It was then that they noticed he had stopped breathing and they began performing CPR, which continued until Davis was placed in an ambulance and taken to Buffalo General Medical Center. A radio transmission at 11:41 p.m. from an ambulance crew member stated Davis was in cardiac arrest.

The attorney general’s office declined to comment on the text messages or whether the exchange is part of the evidence in its investigation. A spokesperson for Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said there is no set time for how long the state investigation will take.

Jashalyn Washington, Davis’ fiancee, has previously said he was suffering from a cold for several days and they had planned to go to a hospital emergency room that night.

And while Davis had previous encounters with police involving drugs, a neighbor remembered him for his kindness and friendly ways.

The woman neighbor said she saw him at a convenience store on West Ferry Street within an hour before he died.

The woman was at the register when Davis walked in and took a soda from the refrigerated section, she said in a recorded interview with Cohen. The woman did not want her name to be publicized because she is afraid of retaliation from the police, Cohen said.

“He’s smiling and talking to everybody, like he always did,” the woman said.

The woman said she went home to her apartment and then didn’t hear anything until her daughter opened the curtains and they saw several police cars on the street.

The woman remembered Davis as a polite young man who often helped her carry her groceries.

“He never took money,” she said.

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