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The arrest and trial of Larry Davis, arrested after a 1986 shootout with the NYPD, drew national interest and ignited racial tensions in New York City.
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In January 1987, Davis was indicted on nine counts of attempted murder and six weapons-related charges stemming from the November 19, 1986 shootout with police.
Throughout all of his trials, Davis and his lawyers claimed that he was the target of corrupt police officers. New York City saw a number of racially divisive incidents in mid-to-late 1980s between people of color and the police. One such incident took place in 1983 when Michael Stewart died in police custody, shortly after being arrested for painting graffiti. Then there was the infamous case of Bernhard Goetz, a white man who shot four black men on a subway because he believed that they were going to rob him. To some, Davis looked like a man standing up against the authorities and understood his need to protect himself against the police. "Incredibly enough, a lot of people respect him," rapper LL Cool J told The New York Times. "He did something brave. Whether it was right or wrong doesn't matter to a lot of people."
Davis was first tried for the four drug-related murders of October 30 in December 1987. Represented by lawyer William Kunstler, he maintained that he had been framed in the killings to justify the November 19 shootout. Davis claimed that the shootout was an effort to silence him for his knowledge of police corruption and drug dealing. When pressed to provide evidence to support his claim, he said that he would not do so unless he received immunity from prosecution.
Despite fingerprint and ballistic evidence, Davis was acquitted of all charges in his murder trial in March 1988. The course of his next trial did not run smoothly, with allegations of racism volleying back and forth between the defense and the prosecution. The first jury was dismissed because of the exclusion of a white juror by the defense. In June, both the defense and prosecution agreed to mistrial over jury selection. Davis was acquitted of the nine attempted murder charges in November, but he was convicted on the weapons charges.
The verdict outraged many law enforcement and government figures. One officer involved in the shootout, Thomas McCarren, was forced to retire because the injuries he sustained in the incident said "It was a racist verdict" because the jury consisted of ten African Americans and two people of Hispanic heritage. He explained that "a bunch of good honest police officers went to lock up Larry Davis because he had killed people, and not for anything else." New York mayor Ed Koch said, "I am shocked. Every policeman in New York—white, black, Hispanic or Asian—must be horrified."
On the other side of the case, Davis's lawyer told reporters that the trial results "sent out a message that white officers are not going to be able to shoot down black youths without a proper response," according to press reports.
Davis received a five to fifteen prison sentence on the weapons charges that December. His legal woes were far from over, however. He was tried for the murder of suspected drug dealer Victor Lagombra in 1989, but he was acquitted.
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