Don's Guns lawsuit finally goes to trial
Businessman says he wasn't told IPD used his employee as informant
By Jon Murray
A drug dealer came into Don Davis' gun shop one day and met with a store employee who moonlighted as a police informant. Three undercover narcotics detectives kept watch, expectantly, hoping to catch the dealer.
But police never told Davis about the setup in April 1993. Best known for flashy late-night commercials for Don's Guns and Galleries, Davis said he had no idea his night manager was arranging drug deals for police.
"How many different ways could that go wrong?" Davis' attorney, Richard Brown, said Tuesday at the start of a trial in Marion Superior Court.
Brown cited the meeting as an example of negligence as a jury began hearing testimony in Davis' lawsuit against the city and the former Indianapolis Police Department. The suit says police also allowed the confidential informant, Timothy Woods, to exchange guns for drugs.
"Don's got half-kilos of cocaine going through his store on IPD's watch," Brown said.
Attorneys for the city deny the negligence claim and say detectives took no part in any exchanges of guns for drugs. Davis' suit contends such arrangements were frequent.
The six-member jury could get the case today or Thursday. It then will decide whether police failed to adequately monitor Woods and should have notified Davis once his employee started working for police.
Davis, 74, filed his lawsuit in 1995, but it didn't reach trial until this week in Judge Patrick McCarty's courtroom because of more than a decade of transfers to different courts and other delays.
Davis is seeking at least $77,000 to cover business losses from guns discovered missing in late 1992, about the time Woods became a confidential informant.
City attorney Marshelle Broadwell challenged the timing of that claim. She said Woods started working with police 10 days after the store began counting inventory in September 1992.
The alliance began one day after an undercover officer caught Woods selling cocaine in a sting, Broadwell said.
Woods never was charged. Instead, officer Bobbi James hoped to use him to catch larger drug suppliers. He continued working for Don's Guns, where he had started two years earlier -- and already had arranged drug deals on his own inside the store, Broadwell said.
"The less people knew about something like that, the safer it is for everyone," she said.
The operation nabbed Ronald Lee, the dealer targeted in the April 1993 sting. He was convicted in December 1994 of drug dealing and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The sentence later was reduced to 15 years.
By then, Woods had resigned under pressure from Don's Guns after he was accused of stealing $150. Davis says he didn't realize Woods had been an informant until Lee's public defender contacted him about that case in 1994.
"I was shocked (police) would do it," Davis said Tuesday during a break from the trial. "We're talking about guns. . . . I could have lost my store."
Davis had been threatened and called a snitch, and after learning about Woods, he said he understood why.
He also learned that another Don's Guns employee, Ricky Davis, had been working as a confidential informant for another law enforcement agency.
Sgt. Matthew Mount, a spokesman for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, said he was not sure whether similar arrangements still are used by narcotics detectives. But, he added, "There's many areas of police work where confidential informants are used" on some level.
Brown told jurors that Woods also diverted sellers from the store's lucrative used-gun business instead of buying customers' guns out of his own pocket and using them in drug trades.
He called into question the judgment of James and fellow officers Steven Swarm and Mark Burke, who had been named as defendants but were dropped from the suit Monday.
Swarm and James now are IMPD officers and likely will be called to testify by the city.
Burke no longer works for the department. Brown pointed out to jurors that Burke was later indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he leaked information to known drug dealers, and he pleaded guilty.
"It doesn't pass the laugh test," Brown said. "If it wasn't so serious, then it would be a crime drama."
Davis has long touted his support for police agencies. During testimony, three current and former law enforcement officers said he has always cooperated with criminal investigations involving guns purchased at his store.
Today, Brown plans to call Lee to the stand. Davis and his accountant also are expected to testify.
Davis is now semiretired and owns only the Don's Guns at 38th Street and Lafayette Road, where Woods worked. But in the early 1990s, he also owned three other stores in the metro area and one in Fort Myers, Fla.
This isn't his first lawsuit against police. He settled one case out of court in 1991 for $100,000 after he sued IPD and the Marion County prosecutor's office, challenging a 1988 raid on his store and the seizure of guns and other property.
In 1995, a jury awarded Davis nearly $11,000 in a negligence suit against the Indiana State Police after the agency mistakenly classified a gun he had sold as stolen.
Call Star reporter Jon Murray at (317) 444-2752.