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'I need to know what happened to my son,' says mother of man who died in a Baltimore jail

'I need to know what happened to my son,' says mother of man who died in a Baltimore jail
Levi Davis Jr., 46, was found dead in the city's jail Wednesday evening, leaving his family frustrated and searching for answers. (Baltimore Sun)

A 46-year-old Baltimore man died Wednesday at a city jail, leaving his family in search of answers and lambasting state corrections officials for not providing them.

“I need to know what happened to my son,” said Ella Davis, the mother of Levi Davis Jr., who was found dead at the Metropolitan Transition Center adjacent to Central Booking and Intake Center downtown on Wednesday night. “I have not gotten any answers.”

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Davis, 71, said her son was in treatment for a heroin addiction and prescribed methadone, and she is concerned he was not properly medicated in jail.

Other loved ones, including Levi Davis’ longtime girlfriend Joann Gyant, said they also are concerned about claims from the neighborhood that police were rough with Davis during his arrest.

By Thursday afternoon, the family said they still had not seen Davis’ body. Instead, they were bounced around on the phone from the chaplain for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, to jail officials, and then back to the chaplain as they sought information.

“I asked a simple question: How did my son die? I have not gotten any answers,” Ella Davis said. “I’m not satisfied with that. That was my only son.”

Corrections officials said a correctional officer found Davis alone and unresponsive in a holding cell about 9:30 p.m., and that correctional and medical staff “attempted to revive him but were unsuccessful.”

They said that “no foul play is suspected,” but that the medical examiner’s office will determine the cause of death.

They said department protocols were followed in contacting Davis’ family.

Davis had been in jail since Memorial Day — May 27.

According to police, a uniformed officer in a marked patrol car was approached by an employee of the CVS at the corner of Pennsylvania and North avenues in the Penn North neighborhood of West Baltimore about 9:27 a.m. on Memorial Day.

The employee told the officer that Davis had shoplifted, putting merchandise in his pants before walking out of the store without paying, police said.

The officer then approached Davis, “could observe bulges in Mr. Davis’ pants consistent with stolen merchandise,” and briefly manipulated the merchandise through Davis’ pant leg before Davis ran, police said. The officer gave chase and was able to stop Davis “without incident” in the 1500 block of West North Ave., police said.

The officer recovered two bottles of Listerine from Davis’ pants, and arrested Davis for theft, police said.

A warrant check then determined Davis had two outstanding warrants, one for a failure to appear in court and the other for second-degree assault.

The arrest was captured on the officer’s body-worn camera, police said, but the footage was not immediately available.

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Court records show Ella Davis was the complainant in the November second-degree assault case for which Davis had an outstanding warrant. Gyant, Davis’ longtime girlfriend, said the family had resolved its issues around that incident.

She also said that the family had paid the bond on the assault warrant, so Davis should not have been in jail still. She said witnesses to his arrest told her that Davis was yanked to the ground by the police officer.

After being informed by a reporter Thursday evening that corrections officials did not believe there was foul play in Davis’ death, Gyant said that was more than officials had told the family and “enough to ease someone’s nerves” — but still far short of the information the family is seeking.

Bruce Goldfarb, a spokesman for the chief medical examiner’s office in Baltimore, declined to comment on Davis’ case. But generally, he said, the medical examiner’s office does not allow family members to view bodies awaiting autopsy.

“We don’t do that in any case for anybody. It just isn’t done,” Goldfarb said. “The medical examiner’s office really isn’t set up for that sort of thing. That’s really what the funeral home is for.”

Goldfarb said that in more than 90 percent of cases, the medical examiner’s office is in custody of a body for less than 24 hours before transferring it to a funeral home or other arrangement put in place by the family.

“That’s really quite expedient,” he said.

Gyant said Davis was active in his addiction treatment at the Divine Light treatment center on Maryland Avenue, where he was “very positive with younger adults, trying to inspire them to do good things with their lives even though he messed up in some areas.”

Young men in the program called him “Unc,” she said. “He would laugh and say, ‘OK, now I’ve got to accept I’m getting old.’”

Davis had no children of his own, but was a father-like figure to Gyant’s children and recently became “a granddaddy,” going by “PopPop,” she said.

“He was working on his recovery process,” she said.

Three men died at the adjacent Central Booking last year.

In December, 49-year-old Andre “Shawn” Fennell collapsed at the facility. Corrections officials said at the time that they did not expect foul play but were still investigating. He had been arrested on charges of breaking and entering.

In November, 31-year-old David Ott died at the facility. The medical examiner found various drugs in his system, including methadone and ethanol, and listed his death as undetermined.

In June 2018, 31-year-old Deniro Bellamy, who was disabled and had turned himself in on a traffic violation, collapsed in a holding cell and died. The medical examiner found morphine and fentanyl in his body and listed his death as undetermined.

In December 2016, 53-year-old Bernice Mitchell died at the facility. Her death was ruled an accident, with the medical examiner finding she had suffered from morphine and fentanyl intoxication. She had been arrested on an outstanding theft warrant.

The Baltimore jail system, including Central Booking, is operating under the terms of a 2015 settlement that required state officials to overhaul its health care services.

Police and corrections officials say that individuals arrested in the city are given medical check-ups upon arrival at Central Booking, and sent to the hospital for treatment if needed.

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