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Former Texas Prisoner Wins 12-Year Fight for Justice

by Kevin W. Bliss

In May 2006, Daryl Davis was serving a 37-year sentence for beating his girlfriend with a beer bottle, when he was assaulted — twice — at Texas’ Polunsky Unit by members of a Black prison gang, the Mandingo Warriors. They viciously beat Davis, once with a broom handle and again three days later with a magnet stuffed into a sock.

It took some digging, but Davis eventually discovered that he’d been targeted in error. By whom? A prison guard named Michael McDuffie. Supervising Lt. Wayne Tucker suspected the guard was on the take from prisoners to smuggle contraband; in an attempt to flush him out, he fabricated a story that Davis had ratted out the crooked guard.

In revenge, McDuffie then put out a hit on Davis with Hispanic gang members he knew. They subcontracted the job to the Mandingo Warriors, since Davis is also Black. For the attacks, they were paid off with 30 packs of Bugler tobacco.

Davis filed complaints through the grievance system of the state Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). When that effort met with frustration, he filed suit pro se in federal court for the Eastern District under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, accusing Tucker, McDuffie and TDCJ of violating his Eighth Amendment guarantee to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. The district court dismissed all of his claims except one for deliberate indifference against Tucker and McDuffie on July 17, 2007. See: Davis v. Dir., TDCJ-CID, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53433 (E.D. Tex.).

After the two guards won summary judgment on January 31, 2008, Davis turned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which reversed the dismissal of his claims against McDuffie on April 2, 2009. See: Davis v. Tucker, 322 F. App’x 369 (5th Cir. 2009).

Back at the district court, Davis was appointed counsel from attorney David J. Guillory of Lone Star Legal Aid in Nacogdoches on April 30, 2009. He was eventually joined by Cameron attorney Chad P. Van Cleave and Lukin attorney Roger N. Moss. The case proceeded to trial, at the end of which a jury found for Davis, awarding $25,000 in damages on April 14, 2010. See: Davis v. McDuffie, USDC (E.D. Tex.), Case No: 9:07-cv-00019.

TDCJ offered to settle for $7,000. But Davis declined, asking the district court for a writ of execution ordering the state to pay what McDuffie owed. That was denied, though, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed that decision on March 12, 2022. See: Davis v. McDuffie, 485 F. App’x 7 (5th Cir. 2012).

The U.S. Supreme Court then refused to issue a writ of certiorari to hear the case on October 1, 2012. See: Davis v. McDuffie, 568 U.S. 875, 133 S. Ct. 254 (2012). With McDuffie apparently broke, it seemed Davis’ award wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.

The prisoner waited another three years before he was released in 2015, after serving half his sentence. He then began approaching state lawmakers about collecting his award. He secured Georgetown attorney Chad Van Cleave to represent him. All saw the injustice in his case. Republican legislator Matt Schaefer agreed to help because TDCJ’s settlement offer showed the state knew it had a moral and ethical obligation to pay Davis.

Finally, in June 2022, after a decade of fighting, Davis collected on a promise to right a 16-year-old injustice, receiving a check from the state of Texas for $27,669.86, representing his initial $25,000 award plus interest.

It was not a major win, but Davis is pleased he held the culprit responsible. “No matter how many doors shut in your face, you need to fight,” the 58-year-old attested. “You cannot be victorious if you give up.” 

Additional source: San Antonio Express-News

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