Monday, May 18, 2009 | On the corner of Avocado Boulevard and Fuerte Drive stand flower bouquets and a wooden cross typically placed on the busy street corner to remember a fatal car accident. But that’s not what happened here. Less than 10 feet from the memorial lies a makeshift sign broken into pieces on the ground that reads in big red capital letters, REMEMBER — HE WIELDED A KNIFE.
That was the rift that ran through Jeromiah Paul Davis life — the athlete, health nut and drug addict. The Coast Guard medal-winner with an admiring family and a serious rap sheet. The older brother shot 11 times and killed by El Cajon police March 27 after running a mile uphill with a 10-inch knife in his hand, high on meth and possibly suicidal.
Police said they were in their right to shoot a person who poses a threat to them or the public, and Davis had a list of prior convictions including assault with a deadly weapon.
Davis had it rough from the beginning. His mother, Cleda Rodriguez, explained the struggles candidly in a letter left at the corner of the intersection where her son was shot.
When she was 17, she was raped by an unidentified man. She got pregnant, and Davis was born.
“Yes, I considered abortion,” Rodriguez wrote in the letter. “My dear aunt told me how could I kill MY child- when she knew I couldn’t even kill a butterfly.”
“I think that was a really big struggle for him too because he didn’t know who his real dad was and it was hard, really hard,” she said in a phone interview.
A few years later she married a man who was verbally and physically abusive, especially to Davis, she said.
When Davis was 13, his younger brother Kyle was killed while crossing the street from school one day. He wasn’t there when it happened but blamed himself and swallowed an entire bottle of aspirin.
“He had this big battle,” Rodriguez said. “On the one hand he tried to stay healthy and eat right, and on the other he had this addiction.”
When things were going well, Davis was an athlete who played baseball and football at Granite Hill High School and later developed a taste for weight lifting, organic food, yoga and jiu jitsu, things he later passed on to his younger brother, Gabe Davis.
His mother and siblings all described him as a motivator who wanted others to believe in themselves.
When asked what he will remember his brother most for, Gabe Davis said simply, “believing in me.”
“He was a Renaissance man,” Gabe Davis said. “I’m not joking. Whatever he did, he was the best.”
“My brother was a good man, and he taught me a lot of good values about being a gentleman, being a good human being and helped elevate my mind and consciousness and build character,” he said.
Gabe Davis and his older brother enjoyed exchanging ideas about ancient cultures. Jeromiah Davis didn’t go to college but encouraged his brother’s education. Gabe Davis recently received a master’s in Near Middle Eastern studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and is currently working on a congressional campaign.
“He could see the goodness in people and make them more aware that they can be successful,” Rodriguez said.
Davis was introduced to meth when he was 20, his mother said, when it was sprawled across a hotel room table where a friend and his mother were living. He would struggle with the drug, what Rodriguez called “the most evil drug I know,” on and off until his death at 32.
Looking for a new start and with a desire to serve his country, Jeromiah joined the Coast Guard in 2003 and three years later was deployed to Guantanamo Bay.
There he ran a marathon and got involved with the church on-base in what his mother described as the happiest time of his life because of the camaraderie it provided.
It was also a time of moral struggle for Jeromiah, his brother said, who believed some of the detainees were innocent and deserved a fair trial.
“He was a very sensitive man,” Gabe Davis said.
For his service at Guantanamo, Jeromiah Davis received several medals but after leaving Cuba, he relapsed, got into trouble with the Coast Guard and was discharged.
In the years following, Jeromiah moved into a sober living facility then with his grandmother and worked at 7-Eleven and a welding company.
But he would find himself in more trouble, racking up arrests for DUI, drug possession, two counts of vandalism and assault with a deadly weapon after getting into a fight outside a Hells Angels club in El Cajon.
Days before the shooting Jeromiah went to visit his mother, told her “I love you and I’m sorry,” and left without allowing her to hug him. Later that week he sent text messages of encouragement and love to his younger siblings.
“I think that he wanted to be out of his misery,” Rodriguez said. “I think he got to the point that he struggled so badly with this that he didn’t want to hurt anybody. He didn’t want his grandma to hurt about him or me to cry anymore and was giving closure to us all.”
“He was an addict that hated the drug and he wasn’t strong enough to beat it,” she said.
High on meth and possibly suicidal, Davis was first seen running up Avocado Boulevard. around 11:50 a.m.
Five minutes later, officers arrived on-scene demanding he stop and drop the knife. He never responded. After trying for eight minutes to subdue Davis, shooting him eight times with beanbags and trying to shock him with a Taser, police stood between Davis, local businesses and traffic stopped at the top of the hill. When he reportedly charged at officers, four officers fired 16 shots, 11 hit him, according to the autopsy report.
Rodriguez doesn’t blame the police and won’t file suit against the El Cajon Police Department but some witnesses still cry foul.
Henry Rodriguez was on his way to grab lunch when he pulled in to the front of the northbound lane of Avocado and thought he was watching a training exercise until it happened.
Rodriguez, 49, is a mechanic at Helix Auto Care on the corner of Fuerte and Avocado and was looking towards the intersection no more than 30 feet from where Davis was at the time of the shooting.
“He shouldn’t be dead today,” Rodriguez said. “With all them officers there and how tired that man was I don’t think shoot to kill was necessary.”
“He didn’t come charging like they said he did. He didn’t do that at all. Then he turned this way toward me and they shot him,” Rodriguez said, emphasizing repeatedly how tired Davis looked after running more than a mile uphill.
“If the officers actually knew who it was they probably would have acted a lot differently. If it was their son, they probably would have found another way.”
It has not been determined if excessive force was used or if Davis was suicidal. Investigations of the shooting are being pursued by the El Cajon Police Department and the San Diego County District Attorney’s office.
“It happened very quickly,” said Lt. Steve Shakowski, an El Cajon Police Department public information officer, who says officers were within their right to shoot a person thought to pose a threat to themselves or the public. “You don’t get to throw a time out sign, get everybody out and make sure it’s all safe.”
A week after the shooting, police set up a checkpoint to try and find witnesses to the shooting. The incident is being pursued like any homicide investigation, Shakowski said.
According to a report from the District Attorney’s Office that evaluated officer involved shootings in San Diego County between 1996 and 2006, more than three quarters of all shootings involve a person on drugs, two thirds of whom were on meth.
“I’m jealous,” Cleda Rodriguez said in her letter placed at the corner of Fuerte and Avocado, “cause I think of how God says he stores all of our tears in a bottle and I just know you and Kyle are having a great time swimming in my Olympic size salt water pool!”
Khari Johnson is a San Diego-based freelance writer. Please contact him at email@example.com with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.