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Former police chief found not guilty

By Racey Burden | Published Saturday, December 16, 2017
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After a three-day trial in which many prominent Rhome citizens took the stand, a jury found former Rhome police chief Brandon Davis not guilty of two counts of official oppression.

Brandon Davis

Davis was accused of unlawfully removing two citizens, Kenny Crenshaw and Ramah Burns, from a Rhome City Council meeting in September of 2015. During the course of the trial, the state called 10 witnesses to the stand to recount the events of and leading up to that meeting.

Sam Eason, a current council member who was present at the time of the incident and filmed the meeting, testified the atmosphere in the city during the fall of 2015 was very tense.

At the meeting where Davis removed Crenshaw and Burns, council members made two decisions that were unpopular with citizens. First they fired the city’s longtime attorney, Walt Leonard. Mayor Michelle Pittman, now Michelle Pittman di Credico, opposed the firing of Leonard.

Then the council appointed Jeff BeCraft to the council over Eason, who had gathered a petition of 107 voters in favor of appointing him. In the video, the citizens in the audience begin to protest the council’s decision. Jo Ann Wilson says of her nomination of BeCraft, “Sure, I am a friend of his wife. He has his own viewpoints, just ask his wife.” Crenshaw can be heard saying, “What about our viewpoints?”

Davis then moves in front of Crenshaw and says, “Sir, come with me.” Crenshaw does so.

When Davis comes back into frame, he stops in front of Burns and asks her to come with him as well. Burns leans around Davis to ask di Credico what she should do, and di Credico tells her to stay seated. Davis pulls out a pair of handcuffs and says, “I’m not arresting you at this time; I’m asking you to step outside.”

David Wilson, sitting next to Burns, tells her she better go. Burns goes outside with Davis.

Eason, who testified that Davis frequently interrupted meetings, said he later asked why Davis was allowed to disrupt meetings but not anyone else.

“He tapped his badge and said, ‘When you have one of these, you can do it,'” Eason said.

Eason said he started recording council meetings because he felt the council was being aggressive toward the mayor from the time she was elected in the spring of 2015, and he wanted to see what would happen next. He also said he spoke up at council meetings to get the council to focus on him and hate him instead of the mayor.

Crenshaw then took the stand and testified he went with Davis because he was afraid of being arrested. He was on active duty in the military at the time and did not want to lose his security clearance. During cross-examination, defense attorney Jim Lane pointed out no one told Crenshaw he couldn’t go back into the meeting, and Crenshaw said he didn’t want to take any chances, so he chose to sit in his car instead.

Burns, a former Rhome city secretary, testified she was “in shock” when Davis asked her to leave the meeting.

“I thought it was in my best interest [to leave] because David Wilson told me to, and I didn’t feel I had a choice,” she said.

Burns also said she saw Davis put his hand on his gun when he approached her. In the video, it does not appear that Davis touches his gun.

Wilson, a former city council member and mayor of Rhome, took the stand to talk about the atmosphere of the Sept. 10 meeting. Wilson said the meeting was out of order, and he did not feel like di Credico was handling it as she should. He testified he told Burns to leave with Davis because if she didn’t go voluntarily, he worried Davis would physically escort her out.

“I would say it was out of order,” Wilson said. “Brandon did not have the authority to do what he did.”

Wilson said when he was a council member, he once escorted Davis out of a meeting for being too argumentative.

Leonard, the former city attorney who was fired Sept. 10, 2015, testified the mayor is the presiding officer of meetings and said Davis should have followed di Credico’s directions when she said she could handle the situation and not removed the citizens.

“That’s the mayor’s call and needs to be the mayor’s call, or otherwise the police are running the meeting,” Leonard said.

“The police don’t get to choose who gets to speak.”

Sgt. Johnny Hatcher, an investigator with the Attorney General’s office, said nothing he saw in the video warranted the removal of the citizens but acknowledged on cross-examination that police officers have to use their own discretion in various situations.

Former council member Jerry Taylor, who resigned from the council in the summer of 2015, testified some of the conflict in the city stemmed from Davis’ appointment to city administrator, a position he held while also acting as chief of police. Davis was city administrator for only about a week, but Taylor said no other candidates were interviewed or considered for the job, and he resigned from council because he felt the appointment was improper.

Tim Robison, who was on the council at the time of the Sept. 10, 2015, meeting, testified council member Ronnie Moore asked Davis to do something about the uproar in the meeting. He said he believed the meeting calmed down after Crenshaw and Burns were removed.

“They had all had a stern warning, and I think they realized someone had control of the meeting,” Robison said.

Then Jo Ann Wilson, another former council member, took the stand to recount her view of the meeting.

“I have no idea if anyone else was more disruptive,” Wilson said. “All the attention went to those two [Crenshaw and Burns] on the front row.”

Wilson, though a witness for the prosecution, supported Davis on the stand, admitting she’d told the prosecutors before the trial, “I don’t wish you guys any bad luck, but yes, I do hope this blows up in your face and I think it will.”

The last state’s witness was di Credico, the mayor of Rhome. She testified Davis had spoken to the citizens before a July meeting and warned them not to be disruptive when council was in session. She said this made her uncomfortable.

“It was almost controlling the crowd and not letting them have an opinion,” di Credico said. “We have to be careful of that.”

Di Credico said she expressed her concerns to Davis, telling him she wanted order without intimidating the audience. She also testified she told Davis to let her take care of disruptions.

The night of Sept. 10, 2015, when Davis removed Crenshaw and Burns, di Credico said, “I did not witness or hear anything that I thought warranted that behavior.”

She also testified that Burns had filed a complaint against Davis, and Davis knew of it because he’d received copies of all complaints made against him through an open records request. Di Credico said she was concerned Davis would take retaliatory action against those who filed the complaints, including Burns.

The mayor acknowledged during cross-examination she couldn’t remember if anyone had told her they were intimidated by Davis’ actions.

The defense called only two witnesses – former council member Ronnie Moore and the defendant himself.

Moore talked about Eason’s PAC, Rhome Forward, and said its supporters were causing a “hostile” atmosphere that made him feel unsafe. Moore testified he was the liaison to the police department, and he asked Davis before the Sept. 10 meeting to do something if things got out of hand.

“He (Davis) knew his authority, and he knew how far to take it,” Moore said. “He went by the law.”

Then Davis took the stand.

Davis testified tension had been building in the town for a while. He said when he spoke up before the July meeting to ask citizens to be quiet during council sessions, he meant to remind them that interrupting a meeting was a Class B misdemeanor.

“[I wanted] to give them every opportunity to follow the law without having to take action,” Davis said.

He said his intention that night was never to arrest Crenshaw or Burns.

“I really just wanted to take them outside and say, ‘You can’t interrupt the meeting,'” Davis said. “If I hadn’t done something, something might have happened.”

On cross-examination, Davis disputed claims made in earlier testimony by Leonard and David Wilson that he himself had been escorted out of a council meeting in the past. In regard to Burns’ testimony, Davis said, “Ramah Burns tends to lie a lot.”

In his closing argument, Lane claimed Davis was “the only adult in the room” on Sept. 10, 2015.

“This is really a time-out situation,” Lane said. “Brandon Davis didn’t arrest anyone; Brandon Davis didn’t impede anyone’s constitutional rights.

“Who got control of the situation? The cop.”

Amy Cadwell, the assistant attorney general and prosecuting attorney, argued that Davis abused his authority as a police officer.

“This man used his badge to violate the rights of Kenny Crenshaw and Ramah Burns,” Cadwell said.

The jury deliberated for three hours before returning verdicts of not guilty on both counts.

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