Federal agents hunting an escaped killer say they had plenty of reasons to search Roberta Davison’s Worley home.
When they broke down her front door three years ago, however, there was something they didn’t have.
A search warrant.
It was a $10,000 mistake. That’s how much the U.S. government paid this month to settle Davison’s lawsuit alleging violation of her civil rights during the Oct. 19, 1992 raid.
The payment is not an admission of guilt, said Marc Haws, chief of the civil division of the U.S. District Court in Boise. But he said the case was uncertain enough that a jury might have sided with Davison and awarded her much more.
“I’m not saying we screwed up,” he said. “Based upon the facts presented to us, there were serious enough questions raised that we felt a settlement was the best outcome.”
Davison originally sought $151,500.
“I would have settled for a dollar. It proves that they were wrong and I was right,” she said in an interview at Geiger Correction Center in Spokane. She is serving 40 months there for witness tampering.
The raid, the lawsuit and the criminal case that landed Davison in federal prison are all linked to Davison’s half-brother, William Davison.
William Davison was first convicted of murder at age 14. Wanting beer money, he and two others robbed 81-year-old Emma Johnson of Worley before beating her to death. They got $2.
That was in 1974. William Davison was released from prison in 1989.
The following year, he murdered 68-year-old Victor Pierre, also of Worley. Pierre was shot six times in the head. After a four-day trial, a jury on Sept. 24, 1992, convicted William Davison of first-degree murder.
He was sent to the Latah County Jail in Moscow, Idaho, to await sentencing.
Three weeks later, Davison pried through a fence, climbed a gate and escaped. The Latah County Sheriff’s Department concluded he had help from the outside.
Within a day of his escape, court archives in Boise show, federal agents were monitoring Roberta Davison’s home on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation.
On Oct. 17, an informer reported seeing William Davison going into the home. Bureau of Indian Affairs officers saw family members bringing blankets and groceries. One man brought something long and heavy, rolled up in a blanket. Police wondered if it was a gun.
On Oct. 19, 1992, Kootenai County Sheriff’s deputies and federal agents gathered in Worley for a pre-dawn briefing. The U.S. Marshal’s Service was supervising. Deputy U.S. Marshall Jack Cluff told the team that appropriate warrants were obtained.
In fact, the agents did have an arrest warrant for William Davison. And court records show Cluff had filled out an affidavit of probable cause - an application for a search warrant. But no judge ever signed it.
“Because of some misunderstandings as to the law, he didn’t apply for the search warrant,” said U.S. Attorney Haws. “I believe that in this case, there was simply a mistaken view of a complex area of the law.”
Cluff declined to comment, referring questions to his superiors, who referred questions back to U.S. attorneys.
Just before dawn on Oct. 19, 1992, the tactical team burst through the door of Roberta Davison’s home.
She, two of her children and her boyfriend at the time were just waking up. They were surrounded by men in ski masks and camouflage clothing.
“They ordered me on the ground and they tore my house apart,” said Roberta Davison.
At one point, her 18-month-old son began bouncing on the bed. In sworn statements, Davison later said that an officer spun around, gun pointed at the boy.
While police searched the home, Davison said, she held a blanket to cover her bare chest. When she went to put on a shirt, she said, an officer jerked away the blanket, exposing her.
“I just put my damn shirt on and got out of there,” she said.
William Davison was nowhere to be found.
Furious about the raid, Davison filed a claim against the Marshal’s Service for “personal and emotional damage.”
The claim was denied.
“This investigation disclosed no evidence of negligence or wrongful acts on the part of our personnel,” Marshal’s Service attorney Virginia Buckles wrote to Davison’s attorney. “Our investigation disclosed that USMS personnel did not conduct a search of your client’s residence.”
But later documents were unequivocal. The Marshal’s Service was the lead agency in the manhunt and supervised the raid.
Buckles reportedly doesn’t work for the Marshal’s Service anymore. But Haws and Bob Grisham, the assistant U.S. attorney who handled most of the Davison case, said it’s likely that she simply didn’t have enough information about the case.
“I wouldn’t read an awful lot into a denial letter,” Haws said.
If in doubt, Grisham said, agencies generally turn down claims, figuring they’ll end up in court where investigation is easier.
Davison’s attorney, Richard Wallace of Coeur d’Alene, declined to comment on the case.
Today, Roberta Davison spends her days working in the Geiger Correction Center recreation room, earning 12 cents an hour handing out basketballs and pool cues.
She goes to drug therapy sessions, listens to music, watches television, writes letters. She expects to be released next year. She’ll be 24 years old.
She was convicted in February 1993 of witness tampering in her halfbrother’s murder trial. She assaulted her stepsister, Billie Jo Antelope, in Walla Walla, Wash., and plotted to hire a hit man to kill Antelope.
Davison vehemently denies the charges, saying she was attacked. And the hit man, she says, was a setup.
“I told him no,” she said. She also denies that her half-brother was ever at the home after his escape.
She said she sent her share of the settlement money to a sister. Davison’s mother and sister are caring for her four children, ages 2 to 6. The youngest, Reyna, was only a few weeks old when her mother went to prison.
The children think their mother is going to school.
“My daughter, she doesn’t know me,” Davison said.
“I saw them two weeks ago,” she said. “The last time before that was in August.”
When she gets out, Davison thinks she’d like to be a drug counselor, but she’s not sure.
“I want to be a mom. I want to be free. I just want a life,” she said.
As it turned out, the Latah County Sheriff’s Department was correct in its suspicions that William Davison had help in his escape.
William Davison’s mother, Deanetta Janson, 54, pleaded guilty in December to helping her son escape. Six months earlier, she’d said police were “making up stories.”
William Davison’s cousin, Tammy Wynecoop, 28, also pleaded guilty to aiding the escape.
Both were sentenced to three years probation and 100 hours of community service.
William Davison’s aunt, Carol Bohlman, 47, was also charged. Her case is pending in federal court.
William Davison was recaptured on the Spokane Indian Reservation a month after his escape.
He is serving a life sentence, plus seven years, in federal prison in Kansas.
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