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Questions linger about the night Meech Davis died in police custody

There are many unanswered questions about what happened to Wardel "Meech" Davis, who was unarmed when he struggled with police and ended up dead.

Why did the police stop Davis in the first place? Did he run and fight, as police say? And most importantly, what caused his death?

A state-led investigation is now underway into the death of the unarmed 20-year-old African American man, and his family and loved ones, along with protesters, are demanding justice. An autopsy was conducted, but authorities said they are awaiting toxicology reports to determine what caused his death. So far no video or photos of the encounter between Davis and the police officers have surfaced.

The Buffalo News spoke with police, law enforcement sources, attorneys and Davis' loved ones, and reviewed police records that provide some insight into what happened:

  • Two police officers were on a special detail to patrol crime spots and respond to quality-of-life complaints in the neighborhood.
  • The house Davis was seen leaving was well-known to police as a place where officers were frequently called.
  • Davis had always cooperated with police on other occasions when he was arrested.
  • Emergency crews responding to help at the scene were first told there was an "injured person" and later tried to use epinephrine and Narcan to try to revive the patient who was in cardiac arrest.

Police Officers Todd McAlister and Nicholas Parisi, both 32, have worked together for about three years and were assigned to what is known as the district chief's detail car. They are assigned to the Central District, also known as B district, which encompasses downtown and part of the West Side.

The purpose of the detail is to patrol in crime hot spots and follow up on quality-of-life complaints, such as drug dealing or loud music, filed by citizens and neighborhood block clubs, police said.

At the end of each shift, officers file a report on their activities.

On the night of Feb. 7, the officers were in the detail car together, as opposed to patrol officers who drive alone in patrol cars.

250-plus police visits to 19 Hoyt St.

Police records show that in the last 10 years, police have been to 19 Hoyt, a multi-family house located just north of West Ferry Street, more than 250 times, either in response to 911 complaints or after observing suspicious activities while on patrol. The investigations at the residence have included loud music, threats, irrational individuals, narcotics and weapons.

In the last 15 years, there have been about 50 arrests at 19 Hoyt as a result of the investigations.

The officers were aware of previous complaints regarding that address, according to police sources.

Wardel "Meech" Davis. (Provided photo)

Davis did not live at 19 Hoyt, and it's not clear why he was there on the night of Feb. 7, when he died. He lived a couple of blocks away in an apartment on West Ferry Street with his girlfriend.

Steven M. Cohen, an attorney representing the Davis family, said Davis had visited a disabled woman who lives in one of the apartments about 20 minutes before the deadly encounter.

"For the last 18 months, he had been bringing her groceries and cigarettes," Cohen said.

Man, 20, dies after battling with Buffalo police during arrest

But 19 Hoyt is not the only problem for police on the first block of Hoyt, between West Ferry and Breckenridge streets.

Last year, there were a total of 90 calls to that stretch of Hoyt and about 15 were at 19 Hoyt. With only a dozen houses on that block, police say the volume of calls is a strong indicator that there are problems.

The problems have continued at 19 Hoyt.

At about 4:30 a.m. Friday, police received a 911 call from a citizen reporting hearing five shots fired at the address. Police responded but did not find a shooter or anyone who had been wounded.

No history of resisting arrest

Jashalyn Washington, Davis' girlfriend, and Cohen have raised questions about why Davis, who was unarmed on the night of Feb. 7, would have fled or fought the police.

Davis, 20, always complied with the police and didn’t harbor resentments against the police, Washington said.

“Meech was arrested multiple times,” she told The Buffalo News. “He never ran.”

She said he told her that police officers brought him home once instead of arresting him.

“He’s not a hot head,” she said. “… He’s not going to fight with them. Everybody knows what happens when you fight with them.”

Police reports from Davis' arrests show that he has a record for selling drugs, but there is no record of him resisting arrest or fighting with police. None of his arrests involve weapons.

He also knew the two officers he struggled with on the night of Feb. 7, as previously reported in The News. They had arrested him three months earlier on drug charges.

Demonstrators picketed Buffalo Police B-District headquarters, protesting the death of Wardel "Meech" Davis in police custody, on Feb. 17. (Robert Kirkham/News file photo)

According to a report on the Nov. 8 arrest, Davis left a GMC pickup truck running, unoccupied in front of a "known drug house" on Arnold Street, near Grant Street, two blocks away from where he died.

When Davis returned to the truck, Parisi and McAlister approached him. Davis admitted he had "a little crack on him," report said.

The officers saw a "white rock" in Davis' hoodie pocket and Parisi recovered it, the report said. It also noted that Davis told McAlister he had "more on him" and pulled out one baggie of "crack/cocaine" from his underwear. Davis was arrested and taken to Central Booking, where, according to the report, he dropped "one baggie of heroin from his right pant leg while being searched.” He was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance as well as introducing contraband, for the baggie of heroin.

Davis was scheduled to be in court on these charges the morning after his death.

His girlfriend said he expected to be sent to jail that day because he had also failed to show up for a previous drug court appearance. That's why she doesn't understand why he would try to flee.

"He already knew he was going to jail," Washington said.

Cohen said based on interviews with witnesses and information he has gathered about the Feb. 7 death, he believes the police used excessive force in dealing with Davis.

That wasn’t Davis’ only previous encounter with the police.

Davis had been arrested two other times, according to police records. On Jan. 29, 2016, he was stopped in a vehicle that had been reported stolen out of North Tonawanda.

Parisi and another officer, not McAlister, saw the vehicle parked in front of Bill’s Corner store on Hampshire Street. A police report said the officers drove around the block and returned to see the car headed west on Hampshire and pulled it over on South Putnam Street, around the corner from Davis’ apartment on West Ferry Street.

Davis was taken into custody and after being cuffed, police recovered two bags of marijuana. The vehicle was impounded. He was charged with unlawful possession of marijuana and one low-level felony count and one misdemeanor count of criminal possession of stolen property.

Five days later, Davis was arrested again on Grant Street at Hampshire Street by two other police officers. He was accused of “loitering” near Bill’s Corner store, according to a police report.

“Upon further investigation, defendant had 18 bags of marijuana in his possession,” the report said.

Then, on Dec. 27, 2016, police were called to Davis and Washington’s apartment about a domestic dispute. Police said at the time that Davis “did slam” Washington “on her face causing a large knot on the right side of her forehead.” Washington confirmed that they had had an argument that turned physical but told The Buffalo News that she had fallen as they had tussled and that Davis did not strike her. Washington did not pursue charges.

She recognized that the incident could come up in the investigation.

"I know they're going to bring that up," she said. "I want justice for my baby."

People gather at the corner of Hoyt and Arnold streets on Feb. 8, 2017, to remember Wardel "Meech" Davis, who had died the night before. (Mark Mulville/News file phtoo)

Washington and Cohen both want to know how Davis died. They say he had a cold and had a minor case of asthma, but that doesn't explain how he would end up dead.

Cohen said the disabled woman who saw Davis right before he died said he didn't appear sick.  "He was fine and not at all agitated," he said she told him.

Washington, who was not with Davis when he encountered the police on the night of Feb. 7, said the two were planning on going to the emergency room that night. Davis had been suffering from a cold for the last several days and she wanted him to get checked out because he expected to be sent to jail the next morning, she said.

Police have said that officers McAlister and Parisi were questioning Davis when he tried to flee. After a short foot chase,  they struggled. And when the officers got handcuffs on him, they realized he wasn't breathing. They removed the handcuffs and started chest compressions.

Radio calls obtained by The Buffalo News from that night between emergency dispatchers and fire and ambulance crews indicate that the initial calls, which begin at about 11:23 p.m., were to help police regarding "an injured person."

When the fire department – which often get to scenes before ambulances – arrived, many patrol cars were on the scene at Hoyt Street, at Arnold Street.

"Engine 37 is on location with scores of police," a firefighter reported.

Someone reports back to dispatch that the emergency responders are "working a code," meaning someone whose heart has stopped.

A dispatcher asks: "Do you know if it is a police officer or a civilian?"

Someone answers: "Looks like a possible O.D."

At 11:41 p.m., an ambulance crew reports it was about to head to Buffalo General Hospital with a man in "cardiac arrest." They said they had given him three doses of epinephrine, which is used to restart the heart, and Narcan, a drug used to reverse an opioid overdose.

"No change," the ambulance crew member said.

The fire crew reported it was escorting the ambulance.

Davis' death is now under investigation by the state Attorney General's office, which took over the case based on a 2015 executive order by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The order gives power to the Attorney General's office to take over reviews of police-involved civilian deaths from local district attorney's office. The two officers are on paid administrative leave.

His death has sparked numerous protests at the scene of Davis' death and in front of the Central Police District office at Main and Tupper streets in downtown Buffalo, where the officers were assigned. On Friday, dozens of protesters marched outside the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center while Mayor Byron W. Brown gave his State of the City address. A smaller group disrupted the speech inside.

"Mayor Brown, can't you see what your cops are doing to me?" they chanted before being removed.

Seven protesters were arrested outside the Convention Center for disorderly conduct and obstructing of governmental administration. Two also were charged with resisting arrest.

News staff reporter Matthew Spina contributed to this report.

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