Fare Game

Why did Phoenix police let an armed and dangerous suspect climb into an unwitting cabdriver's back seat before they opened fire?

Detectives went through Davis' room. They found an empty Pizza Hut box, six empty cans of Pepsi and an overflowing ashtray. The TV set was still on.

Fourteen live .380 caliber rounds, baggies of white powder, and glass vials and syringes were on Davis' body. A toxicology report later showed meth in Davis' blood.

Aside from the guns, drugs and ammo, all Davis left behind in this world was an iron cross and a patch with the words "WHITE POWER."

Almost two months later, Davis was released from his probation when officials realized he was dead.

The case of Troy Davis may be closed, but one question remains, even a year later: Why was Leyvas put in the middle of a firefight?

There are no good answers yet.
The public records available on the shooting only add to the questions.
According to police reports and an internal review of the incident provided by Phoenix police to New Times, police got on the scene at 5:30 a.m. and waited for Davis to make a move. Five hours later, when police knew Davis had a ride coming, the SAU decided to make a "street jump"--cop talk for an arrest in a car. They figured once Davis was in the vehicle, it would be safer than trying to arrest him in his room.

They didn't try to evacuate the motel or warn the motel's guests, despite the hours-long stakeout by a heavily armed SWAT team.

There's nothing in the reports to suggest police even discussed trying to take Davis at some other point, or stopping cars from driving into the lot. When Leyvas arrived, the police in the room next to Davis overheard the suspect say, "My ride's here." There was no attempt to intercept or warn Leyvas.

The police also passed up at least two opportunities to grab Davis before he got near the cab.

Officers were right next door to Davis in Room 228. Yet they let Davis walk past their door, down the stairs and into the parking lot where he passed yet another officer in an undercover vehicle.

One expert on police procedures says the best move would have been to arrest Davis before he approached the taxi.

Jim Fyfe, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University and a former New York City police veteran, won't comment on the specifics of the Davis shooting. But he will say that the best way to stop a suspect is usually out in the open.

"The job of the police is to control the situation. You try to get the guy while he's exposed and you're not," Fyfe says.

By waiting until Davis got into the cab, the Phoenix police created a problem for themselves.

"It's tough to get someone out of a car," Fyfe says. "There are felony stop procedures, where you surround a vehicle and order people out of the car, but if you have one bad guy and one innocent person in the car, you have a potential hostage situation."

Instead, the police gambled that they could shoot around Leyvas. Officer Redmon says Leyvas' head blocked a clear shot at Davis. Perry and Roman both said they knew Davis was right behind Leyvas, but felt that the angle of their shots would carry the bullets away from the driver.

Leyvas didn't have to be there. Once the cab entered the lot, the police could have replaced the driver with one of their own officers before he pulled around behind the building to Davis' room.

In one case cited by Fyfe, police emptied a New Jersey turnpike restaurant when they had a tip that robbers were about to hit the place. They substituted everyone--wait staff, customers, cooks--with cops. "So when the robbers showed up, the police's job was relatively easy," Fyfe says.

Still, none of the officers who watched Leyvas enter the parking lot attempted to stop him or warn him. They let him pick up a man they knew to be an attempted murderer--a man they had warned the whole city was armed and dangerous.

No one at the Phoenix Police Department will talk about what happened that morning. Sergeant Mike Torres, a spokesman for the police, declines to comment because the matter is in litigation. Chief Harold Hurtt did not respond to a written request for an interview sent to his office.

Terry Sills, the police union president, has plenty to say in the SAU's defense, however.

"We sent the very best that we had," says Sills, a 25-year veteran of the force. "These were our most highly skilled, highly trained officers, and we accomplished this with minimal danger to the citizens and to the officers."

Things could have been a lot worse for Leyvas, Sills maintains. The driver should be thanking the police, not complaining, he says.

"Would he be saying this if this criminal got in his cab and drove him out to the desert and shot him? Would his family be suing us then for not doing our jobs?" Sills asks. "He came out of a very dangerous situation with a lot of exposure, with some pretty good results."

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