Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

District Attorney Won't Charge IRS Agent in Shooting Death : Investigation: Prosecutors say they lack sufficient evidence to win a conviction against Paul Hamilton Davis. The incident stemmed from a traffic dispute.

August 20, 1994|JULIE TAMAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Criminal charges will not be filed against an off-duty IRS agent who shot and killed an unarmed Bakersfield man following a traffic dispute on a San Fernando Valley freeway, the Los Angeles district attorney's office announced Friday.

Prosecutors said they chose not to charge Paul Hamilton Davis in connection with the July 16, 1993, shooting death of Mickey Jay Smith because they lacked sufficient evidence to win a conviction. They found Davis was not acting in his official capacity as an IRS agent when he killed Smith.

"Despite the fact that we believe that Mr. Davis, by his impetuous acts, ultimately put into motion the chain of events which led to Mr. Smith's death, we cannot legally, ethically, or successfully charge him with committing a crime," according to an 18-page report issued by the district attorney's office Friday.

The report noted that the case was weakened by numerous factors, including a potential credibility problem of a key witness, Smith's own history of violence against his family and girlfriend and the likelihood that Davis could present a strong defense that he shot Smith in self-defense.

"We didn't think we could win it," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Efrem M. Grail, the prosecutor assigned to the case. "It was very complex."

News of the decision came as little surprise to Smith's mother, Lee Craig, who described the handling of her son's case by law enforcement officials as "tacky."

"I had a feeling he (Davis) would get away with it," Craig said in a telephone interview from her Bakersfield home.

Others greeted the announcement.

"We're very pleased," said Jim Asperger, an attorney from O'Melveny & Myers, who represents Davis. "Clearly it was the right decision."

The federal Justice Department could still file civil rights charges against Davis. The FBI launched a preliminary investigation into the shooting after a complaint was filed with the department. An FBI spokesman could not be reached for comment late Friday.

A $30-million civil rights lawsuit was also filed last month by Smith's girlfriend, Brandi R. Griffith, and the couple's 2-year-old daughter against Davis and the IRS. Griffith's lawyer, James De Simone, said Friday he is "confident the truth will come out in (a civil) trial."

"We intend to prosecute Mr. Davis to the fullest extent under the law for federal civil rights violations," he said. "Smith's child is without a father because Davis killed him."

*

Events leading to Smith's death began shortly after 7:30 p.m. on the Golden State Freeway while Smith was riding in a rental truck driven by his friend, Chris Stayton. During a lane change, the truck swerved in front of a car driven by Davis, according to reports.

Stayton's account, contained in an LAPD preliminary homicide report, is that Smith began taunting Davis, who followed Stayton and Smith off the Branford Avenue exit, where both vehicles stopped along a side road near an industrial complex. Stayton said Smith got out of the truck shouting obscenities and repeatedly shoved Davis, who moments later shot and killed Smith.

Stayton and other witnesses told police they did not realize Davis was a law enforcement officer until after the shooting when police arrived and the agent, dressed in business attire, flashed his badge at officers.

The report issued by the district attorney's office also noted that Davis did not brandish his law enforcement badge or an available flashlight to try and de-escalate the situation, however it found that Davis did attempt to radio the IRS to request police backup just prior to the confrontation.

Smith was unarmed at the time of the shooting, according to police. A coroner's toxicology report found that his blood alcohol level, at .18%, was more than twice the legal driving limit of .08%. Prosecutors said that would have bolstered Davis' contentions that he feared for his life.

*

Prosecutors also noted in their report that numerous witnesses stated they saw Davis retreat four to five times as Smith continued to approach him and shove him, but one witness said he saw the two men shove each other. Two other witnesses also told police they saw Smith strike Davis in the face.

In an interview with The Times last year, Stayton said although Smith was acting aggressively, he did not believe his friend posed enough of a threat to Davis to warrant the shooting.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|