Calling a fellow judge’s comments in March a possible violation of the canon of ethics, Hamilton County Judge Barry Steelman on Monday issued a restrictive order on attorneys and parties involved in the Montez Davis murder trial.
Davis, 19, is charged with first-degree murder in the Jan. 9 shooting death of 42-year-old Jonathan Lawrence, who was hit by a stray bullet as he pumped gas at the Kanku’s on Tunnel Boulevard.
General Sessions Judge David Bales, in the March 16 bond hearing for Davis and again in early August when Steelman lowered Davis’ bond, intimated the suspect was a gang member and said gangs “need to be stomped out like cockroaches.” Bales had set Davis’ bond at $1 million.
Davis’ attorney, Curtis L. Bowe III, said Monday he is concerned for his client’s chances of receiving “a fair and impartial trial” and moved to restrict future comments linking his client with gangs.
Steelman granted the request, in part, restricting attorneys, judges and family members involved in the case from talking about it. He said he could not restrict the media that “already has what it has.” The judge noted stories that ran in March when Bales made the statement and again when Davis’ bond was lowered to $200,000.
“The shame of it is that the district attorney hasn’t said anything. I haven’t said anything. But another judge has, and that has to bring us here,” Steelman said. “It may be a violation of the (judicial) canons, but that’s for another agency to take up.”
On Monday, Bales said he was — and is — talking about the problem “in general.”
“Our community as a whole has got to get together and look at this gang problem as though we’re being infested with cockroaches,” he said Monday. “The community would not allow cockroaches to take over. I feel like the community has got to do something to get control, to put an end to this needless killing and drive-by shootings.”
Bales said he would not respond to Steelman’s ethics statement.
“I will not comment on another judge’s words,” he said.
Shortly after the January shooting, Davis told police he fired a gun that day after someone threw a bottle at his car. He said he was tired of being picked on.
The young man who threw the bottle told investigators he made the throw because he thought Davis was going for a gun.
Minutes after the shooting, more shots were fired into Davis’ residence down the street from the service station. In that shooting, too, another innocent bystander was struck. A bullet went through the driver’s side window of a passing car and hit Inah Garner in the finger, police reported.
The shooting in which Davis is charged was the second at the station in a matter of weeks, and just before Davis’ March hearing in front of Bales a third and fourth shooting there left another passer-by injured and another person dead.
Sgt. Todd Royval, supervisor of the Chattanooga Police Department’s crime suppression unit, which monitors gang activity, told the Times Free Press in late March that he believed the Kanku’s station had become dangerous because of its proximity to two opposing gang territories.
“That intersection area near Kanku’s has one certain set of gang members there and, if you go right to the tunnels, there’s a completely different set they might have problems with,” he said. “It’s like a fishing hole — they know it’s in the middle, so that’s where they go to.”
Bowe, Davis’ attorney, said his client, who bonded out of jail Aug. 4, deserves a fair trial.
“No proof has been entered other than at the probable cause phase of this prosecution, yet the defendant has been identified and vilified in the public venue almost assuring a guilty of verdict on any charge greater than jay-walking,” Bowe stated in his motion.
Davis is free on bond.
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Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...