The prosecution presented him as an officer above the law. A man who would lie to bolster probable cause to get a search warrant. A man who would wield his influence to get a young woman to pay for the gun he damaged for actions he knew to be wrong.
But the defense painted Whitaker police Officer William Davis as an aggressive, hard-working cop. A man who wanted nothing more than to rid the streets of his small town of the drugs plaguing it. A man who was willing to cut a young professional a break to avoid felony charges in her record.
In the end, the jury accepted the portrait of the second man, and found Officer Davis, 37, not guilty on all counts. His eyes brimmed with tears afterward.
“I would like to thank the jury, my family, my friends and my chief for all standing behind me through this difficult process,” Officer Davis said.
When asked if he would rejoin his department from which he’d been suspended, Officer Davis said he had no comment.
The Allegheny County district attorney’s office charged Officer Davis with attempted extortion, official oppression, false swearing, unsworn falsification, criminal mischief and perjury stemming from two separate incidents in the summer of 2012.
In the first, he was accused of making up charges against a woman he attempted to pull over near the Rankin Bridge on June 27, 2012.
She was unsure the person stopping her was an officer because he was in an unmarked car and plain clothes. She drove off and called 911, planning to pull over in a well-lighted area.
But when the woman got stuck in traffic near Kennywood, Officer Davis — believing she was fleeing from him — approached her car and demanded her to roll down her window. When she failed to comply quickly enough, he broke out her window with his handgun and took her into custody.
He claimed he was fearful for his safety since he could not see inside the car through its dark, tinted windows.
Later, after hearing what the woman had to say, defense attorney William Difenderfer told the jury that Officer Davis felt bad for her and didn’t want to file charges.
Both parties agreed that she would pay to repair his gun, which was damaged in breaking the window, and she would write out a statement explaining what had happened.
“What happened on that scene that night — as egregious as it was — is nothing compared to what happened back at the station,” said assistant district attorney Jonathan Fodi.
He believes Officer Davis recognized what he’d done during the traffic stop was wrong and offered the woman the deal to cover it up.
“Officer Davis was reeling in his mind. ‘What did I just do? And how can I fix it?’ ”
A few days after making the deal, though, the woman changed her mind and went to the DA’s office to complain. In return, Officer Davis filed charges of careless driving, failure to use a turn signal and failure to use a seat belt. All those charges were later withdrawn.
In the second case, Officer Davis was accused of lying repeatedly in an affidavit of probable cause for a search warrant of a home on Frank Street where he suspected illegal drug activity.
Mr. Difenderfer said his client never lied.
“There's ample probable cause, but for some reason this [prosecutor's] office elects to put it under a microscope to nitpick every word of it,” Mr. Difenderfer told the jury during his closing argument Tuesday.
But Mr. Fodi disagreed.
“They're not mistakes. They're lies,” the prosecutor said during his closing. “[Tell him], ‘This time you were wrong. This time you stepped over the line.’ ”
After the verdict, Mr. Difenderfer said in his 32 years doing criminal defense, he’s seen “hundreds of worse warrants and police reports” than the ones for which his client was charged.
“I’m just amazed they prosecuted this case,” Mr. Difenderfer said.
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard. First Published June 17, 2014 1:22 PM