Pubdate: Sun, 03 Mar 2002
Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)
Copyright: 2002 Chattanooga Publishing Co
Author: Barry Graham


David Mays met Jeremy Tucker Davis on Jan. 8, when both men happened to be 
plying their trade.

According to the police reports detailing events from that night, Mr. Davis 
was breaking into cars on Joiner Road in East Brainerd. At 25 years old, he 
already had been convicted of one aggravated burglary, three thefts of 
property and one possession of a controlled substance, records show. He had 
never served any time.

David Mays was on duty as a Chattanooga police officer. At 27 years old, he 
had been on the job for three years.

Before the night was over, Mr. Davis would add attempted murder to his 
arrest sheet. Officer Mays would be the victim.

Police reports show someone saw Mr. Davis that night and called the police. 
Officer Mays showed up and chased Mr. Davis into the woods. As they fought, 
Mr. Davis pulled a gun, the police report states, and, with the gun close 
to Officer Mays' head, he pulled the trigger.

Officer Mays felt the burning of the gunpowder and was deafened by the 
concussive noise of the shot. The bullet grazed his head.

Police reports state Mr. Davis fired again, then again, then again. One of 
those shots hit Officer Mays in the back.

Mr. Davis now is charged with more than 50 crimes, including attempted 
first-degree murder. His trial is scheduled to begin July 9.

The incident is one of a number local police and prosecutors said 
demonstrates the way lenient criminal laws allow multiple offenders to go 
essentially unpunished until a violent act occurs.

State officials and lawmakers said not much can be done about habitual 
offenders unless more prisons are built -- and that doesn't appear likely, 
with the state facing a budget shortfall of $350 million by the end of the 
fiscal year June 30.

Ed Buice, the Chattanooga Police Department's public information officer, 
said some people with a "laundry list of arrests" always seem to get right 
back out on the street.

"Nothing is more frustrating to an officer who puts his or her life on the 
line than to have the person they arrest end up right back out again," Mr. 
Buice said.

Thanks to a bullet-proof vest, Officer Mays is alive and back at work.

Donald Bond is not. He was a Hamilton County Sheriff's Deputy until 
September 6, 2001, when he was shot to death. He was 35. The man accused of 
killing him, Marlon Duane Kiser, was four years younger.

Like Jeremy Tucker Davis, Mr. Kiser had a criminal history. According to 
court documents, he has "an extensive arrest record, which shows an 
alarming tendency to fight with the police."

Court records show that in April 1989 he was charged with assaulting an 
officer in Chattanooga and resisting arrest, in an incident in which he 
admitted to fighting 12 to 15 officers during a field sobriety test.

In January 1991, according to records, he was charged with assaulting 
Chattanooga police officers, and he was carrying a knife. The records also 
show that he spent time in mental hospitals in New York in 1996 and South 
Carolina in 1997, and that before the enforced hospitalization in South 
Carolina, he beat a man so badly that the man's cranial bones were exposed.

In 2001, he was free. And then, according to the murder charge he is now 
facing, he met Deputy Bond.

Hamilton County District Attorney General Bill Cox said he understands and 
shares officers' frustrations about the difficulty in keeping repeat 
offenders locked up.

"Of course I think the law is too lenient," he said. "Davis had never 
committed a violent crime before, and the law is designed to keep 
nonviolent offenders out of jail. Nonviolent offenders get the least 
restrictive penalties. I wish the law was such that everyone who committed 
a crime would have to do some time."

Mr. Cox added that even in cases in which a criminal does serve time, if 
the sentence is two years or fewer, they are automatically granted parole. 
"It's frustrating for the police, and it's frustrating for us," he said. 
"It's a matter of money. It's expensive to put people in the penitentiary."

Although Tennessee has a "three strikes" law, under which a person can be 
sentenced to life if he or she commits a crime three times, Mr. Cox said it 
only applies to "high-grade violent crimes." According to FBI records, the 
national average for violent crime is 506.1 crimes per 100,000 population. 
In Chattanooga, the figure is 772.3, and in Nashville it's 973.3.

"We need something similar (to the 'three strikes' law) for lower-grade 
crimes," Mr. Cox said. "But the public would have to be willing to fund it."

Hamilton County Sheriff John Cupp said he sees leniency as something that 
leads to more serious crimes. "We tolerate it until something tragic 
happens," he said. "We have a sense of understanding, of empathy, but it's 
false. Reality has to smack you in the face and tell you that something has 
to be done."

George Little, a spokesman for the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole, 
said that as of last month, there are 27,968 convicted felons on probation 

Steve Hayes, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Correction, said 
the department does not have records showing the average number of felonies 
a person could be convicted of before being incarcerated.

"If you commit felonies, you will go to prison," he said. "You might get 
probation for minor felonies." He said it was not realistic to have more 
punitive measures. "If you sentenced everyone who committed a felony to 
prison, you'd be building a prison every other day."

Officer Mays sees it differently.

"I've arrested people with three pages full (of felonies), and they still 
didn't go to jail," he said. "These people are not being punished. It 
drives me crazy when I think about it."

Like Mr. Cox and Mr. Hayes, Officer Mays believes that money, or the lack 
of it, is the problem.

"Yeah, the jails are overcrowded, but we have got to spend money to put 
criminals away. We can arrest them, but there's not much point when they're 
going to just get probation. It's amazing that somebody has to shoot me for 
them to put him away."

Karla Gothard, executive assistant district public defender, said the 
system can be too lenient, but she says it's complicated.

"It can also be too harsh," she said. "For example, if a crack addict buys 
a rock for $20 and sells half of the rock to another addict, that's 
possession of cocaine for resale, which is a class B felony, not eligible 
for probation. The law allows for no difference between an addict selling 
half a rock to another addict and a drug dealer selling 250 rocks to get 
people addicted."

Ms. Gothard said the problem lies with legislation that came into effect in 
1989 to combat overcrowding in the prisons. "There was such a problem with 
overcrowding that the Department of Correction was placed under Federal 
supervision for a while. Since 1989, the law has a presumption that 
probation will be granted if the sentence would be under eight years.

"This system does have a lot of problems," she added, "but it's still 
probably the best in the world."

State Rep. Phillip Pinion, D-Union City, chairman of the House Corrections 
Oversight Committee, said legislators have pushed "for some time" to 
convince the governor's office to build another prison.

"They've refused to do it," Rep. Pinion said. "I think they just don't want 
to spend the money, but there is absolutely no doubt that we're going to 
have to have more space."

Sean Williams, a spokesman for Gov. Don Sundquist, denied that the governor 
was refusing to build a prison. "It is not a matter of if, it's a matter of 
when the prison will be built, and exactly where," he said. "There is a 
process that needs to be followed, and this administration is seeing that 
the process is being followed thoroughly, and that all financial aspects 
are being taken into consideration."
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