Police Sgt. Lane Eskins said he saw a man run from the car with a handgun. Then Eskins said he chased the man into a mechanic’s garage and faced the barrel of a gun.
“He was holding the gun, pointing it at me,” Eskins testified Thursday. “I yelled, ‘Gun! Gun!’ and my sergeant started firing.”
Baltimore police grievously wounded Keith Davis Jr. that day in June 2015. Now a highly politicized murder case against Davis hinges on those tense moments in the garage.
Defense attorneys continue to challenge Eskins’ version of events. Assistant Public Defender Deborah Levi told jurors during opening statements that Eskins and another officer shot Davis but found him to be unarmed, so they planted the gun to justify their actions.
Eskin’s testimony rests at the center of both the state case and the defense theory of the shooting. When the sergeant resumed his testimony Thursday, the courtroom was crowded with spectators.
Prosecutors are trying to convict Davis once and for all of murdering Pimlico security guard Kevin Jones nearby on that same morning. Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Seidel said the gun recovered from Davis in the garage was the one used to kill Jones.
They have tried Davis three previous times for murder, resulting in two deadlocked juries and one conviction thrown out. More than four years have gone by.
The case has become hotly debated in Baltimore. Davis’ wife, Kelly, has drummed up supporters to rally around the cry of “Free Keith Davis!” They have packed the courtroom during trial and called on State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to drop the case.
In Baltimore Circuit Court Thursday, Eskins testified that he was ordering Davis to drop the gun. He said one bullet punched through Davis’ cheek before the Howard County man surrounded.
“He stood up and placed the gun on top of the refrigerator,” Eskins told the jury. “I saw blood coming from his face.”
Levi, the defense attorney, drew out inconsistencies in the sergeant’s testimony. She never asked, however, whether Eskins or his colleagues planted the gun. She may question him yet again.
Eskins had told the jury the gun was silver. But Levi noted he had previously told internal affairs investigators that he couldn’t remember.
“You couldn’t give anyone a description of the weapon until you saw one show up in an evidence box in court,” she said.
“That is correct,” he said.
She noted about seven months went by before he agreed to discuss shooting Davis with internal affairs investigators. And that routine interview, she said, came only after he was told in a letter that he would not be prosecuted. Such letters clear an officer after a shooting.
Also, Eskins had claimed Davis wore braids or dreadlocks in his hair, Levi said. But Davis’ hair was cut short when he was shot.
“That description you gave didn’t match,” she said.
“I guess maybe the hair didn’t,” he said.
Levi pressed him. Could he have chased the wrong man? Could he have been mistaken about the gun?
“Isn’t it true, Mr. Eskins, that you could have gotten it wrong?”
He was firm.