Five months ago, 21 year old Christopher Davis was shot dead by police in Muskego, Wisconsin. Today, his family wrestles with the frustrating reality that Chris’s killer won’t be charged with a crime. Key details gleaned during federal investigations, however, bring that decision into sharp questioning.
During February of 2016, Christopher Davis accompanied friends driving from Milwaukee Wisconsin to Muskego. Driver Jose Lara told investigators they’d gone to inspect a car for purchase. At the time of the shooting Davis’ cousin, a US Army private, stated this as well. Being uncomfortable with freeway driving, Davis allowed Lara to drive his car. Davis and Lara were accompanied by a third individual, Roberto Juarez Nieves, MJS reports. Nieves’ name, however, was redacted in the investigative report.
Stopping off in a Roma restaurant’s lot, Davis’ car was approached by a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy later identified as Juan Ortiz. Initial reports indicated Ortiz fired after the then unidentified driver disobeyed orders. This kicked off a 90 mph high speed chase uncommon for the quiet area, marathoning back to Milwaukee.
Officers pursuing the vehicle managed to crash and flip it using a “PIT maneuver”. Two suspects fled the wreckage and Davis was transported to the hospital. As Chris was pronounced dead the runners–Lara and Nieves– were apprehended. Lara was tasered and captured immediately whereas Nieves ran and hid in a tree. Investigative reports reveal Davis died of a gunshot wound to the head by Ortiz’s service Glock.
Ortiz however, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, will not be charged following a Department of Justice investigation. District Attorney Daniel Necci notified Chris’ family, calling Ortiz’s acts “privileged” in “defense of himself and others.” The DA claimed Ortiz was protecting against “potentially deadly force”. Whereas some officers claimed Davis’ car drove into them, Lara didn’t recall any in his way. It could be speculated that this discrepancy in detail may stem from the shock of the experience.
It was also revealed that the “drug investigation” mentioned months before was actually a staged deal. Officers were reputedly hunting cocaine, going as far as to claim Davis and Lara were working together. It went awry, causing a lengthy drama during which, MJS reports, no video was captured.
Not only that, but Oritz wasn’t alone. Two other officers, Craig Knox and Jeff Price, appear in the Sentinel’s piece. They’re mentioned only briefly as having been dispatched to aid in the undercover sting. Deputy Ortiz was placed on administrative duty following the killing, and has since been fully reactivated.
Several critical details regarding the role Knox and Price played were curiously left unexplored in coverage, however. According to investigative reports, Knox was initially accompanied by another officer–Sgt. Paul Schmidt. Both Schmidt and Knox serve with the Town of East Troy PD, separate from Ortiz’s Walworth County Sheriff’s.
According to documents, Schmidt and Knox were attending a legal update training class together. As Knox drove them back in the department’s newest squad–#15–they received a call from an East Troy Village PD officer. Schmidt told investigators the officer requesting assistance was most likely Jeff Price.
Price allegedly directed Knox to meet several other officers, including Walworth Deputies, at a Burger King. Upon arriving, Knox left Schmidt in the car while meeting with Price. Where does Deputy Juan Ortiz fit in all this you ask?
Officer Aaron Hackett told investigators Ortiz was assigned as backup. Initially, Ortiz was held up at another ambiguous drug-related stop. Hackett, who’s served two tours in Iraq, was approached by Price for the plan. Hackett aided Price in planning the sting, even helping move the informant’s vehicle to the lot.
Although Hackett wasn’t at the “briefing”, according to page 46 Price, Knox, Ortiz, and Walworth County Deputy Chief Jeremy Swendrowski were. Hackett says he had no clue Schmidt was present. Even though Hackett helped make the arrest plan, he claimed to “not know any details in regard to the target vehicle.”(Pg.46)
Hackett told investigators, at one point, Price and another Walworth deputy discussed a lack of manpower. It was even suggested they “forgo further investigation”, Page 42 reads. When Hackett asked if he could go home Price said he still needed Hackett.
Hackett claims Knox called out “as going on duty via police radio”(Pg.43), and was called in. Hackett himself was plain clothed and off-duty. He carried only a personally owned pistol, and drove a personal car. Officer Price was reputedly uniformed and driving a marked vehicle.
Documents show a prior marijuana arrest Price made actually birthed the sting which killed Chris Davis. Price sought to turn the individual into an informant who’d eventually ensnare a dealer. The informant, whose name was redacted, told investigators on page 100 that they’d been arrested for domestic related charges. Officer Price allegedly offered “consideration for his current charges or work the charges off.”
A plan was then hatched to convince a dealer to travel from wherever they were to Muskego. The informant claimed a $800 marijuana transaction was organized with him as the lure. Jose Lara, Davis’ driver, said on page 17 that the backseat passenger–Roberto Nieves–wanted to stop off at Muskego to meet a guy owing him $800. Despite this, Knox says Price told him they were shooting for a couple eight balls of coke, (Pg.54).
Lara initially objected, feeling the trip would take them out of their way to inspect a car in Brookfield. Lara also informed investigators that Nieves was on probation for cocaine, and known to lie. Due to this, Lara worried what story Nieves was feeding investigators. This was the “plan” Sgt. Schmidt learned he and Knox had been unexpectedly drafted into.
It took around two minutes for the “briefing” between Knox and Price to conclude, Schmidt recalled. Knox, however, told investigators the actual meeting was about 30 seconds, (Pg.54). After being filled in, the sergeant objected saying “it was not a good plan”, documents say. “Schmidt stated”, the documents continue on page 31, “he and Knox should not have taken part in the potential arrest.” Not only were they not in uniform and without vests, but Schmidt even lacked a weapon.
Additionally, the plan relied on baiting a dealer using the informants Mercury Marquis. This facet wasn’t communicated well from Knox to Schmidt, the latter feeling that wasn’t enough to go on. “Schmidt felt they didn’t have enough information or manpower to attempt an arrest”, reads page 32.
While en route to the drop, Schmidt recalls Knox becoming angered by Price taking a sudden turn onto a highway. Because of this, they became the lead car–which Schmidt found tactically faulty. “I should’ve stopped our involvement right then in this whole thing”, he says on page 32.
Schmidt and Knox arrived in the Roma parking lot, seeing the parked Mercury Marquis. They didn’t observe anyone inside, even though they believed this was the target. As they observed the vehicle, police yelling “show me your hands” were heard from another direction. Knox, having already exited the vehicle, pointed his gun towards the new target. The car attempted to exit the lot, and Ortiz fired. Whereas officers heard four shots, including Hackett, Lara recalls two or three.
Lara states the probation-bound Nieves panicked, saying he’d been set up. Nieves told an entirely different story, though inconsistent with Lara and Davis’ cousin. Lara claims Nieves, whose name is redacted in the reports, said then that he had drugs on him. Lara was livid, asserting to investigators beginning to end that he didn’t see, touch, or know of drugs prior. Lara even offered investigators to look in his and Nieves’ phones, to prove Nieves, not Lara, made repeated calls to the informant.
As Lara began to leave, he saw officers roll up with one jumping out pointing a gun at the car. Lara was spooked and, after shots were fired and Davis hit, his instincts kicked in and he drove, page 18 reads. During questioning, Nieves called Davis an “innocent person”. Whereas Nieves was described as “mildly emotional” upon hearing Chris died (Pg. 11), Lara “became very emotional” (Pg. 19). Both denied Davis knew of any drugs or had anything to do with illegal activity. Both said the other had drugs, neither claimed to have seen any. No hand off with police was made before the shooting commenced.
No dash cam footage was captured, including during the actual chase. Despite this, special agents arriving to the crime scene discovered dash cam SD cards were removed to “download video for DCI investigators” (Pg.6). That’s interesting. Some dash cams are known to start recording immediately after the car exceeds a specific speed. Not only that, but the fact that a download was commenced implies that there was something to be downloaded.
Additionally, Knox told investigators that he believed Price probably had a body camera, (Pg.58). Following the incident, Knox and Schmidt returned to the station, got in uniform, and returned to the scene (Pg.33). On page 57, Knox claims his squad didn’t have audio or video recording.
Accounts of the incident begin to diverge at this point between officers and suspects alike even more. Despite this, it’s clear by the DOJ’s investigation that it wasn’t just Deputy Juan Ortiz in the hot seat. Officer Jeff Price brought the rag-tag group together for a raid he concocted. When officers like Hackett suggested going home he encouraged them to stay. At least a few officers, including Schmidt, doubted the plan. Going no further was even discussed between Price himself and Walworth deputies. All in all, the jump at least lacked critical manpower and at most was poorly thought out. Due to this, there’s a decent case to be made that the raid should’ve never been.
It would seem Christopher Davis was dragged into tragic events he had entirely no control over. Clearly, Walworth County Deputy Juan Ortiz isn’t alone in responsibility for Davis’ death. Davis’ fiancé decried the actions of her family members, whom she found responsible for his death. Whether a tale of poor training, carelessness, or something else, it’s an awful one. In March, Davis’ cousin–Private First Class Lock, first name withheld, called the incident “murder”. “I want justice for my cousin and best friend Christopher J. Davis”, he proclaimed. Look at where we are, after what has happened here.