Hammer-attack suspect has history of mental disorders

May 5, 2012

The young man suspected of attacking his neighbors with a hammer last month was held for psychiatric evaluation a year ago after his teachers and guardian became fearful of his behavior, according to documents filed in D.C. Superior Court.

Michael W. Davis, now 19, was taken to the emergency room of Washington Hospital Center on May 12. His teachers had reported that he was yelling and laughing out loud in school, and a family member said that he lay down on his bathroom floor and began talking to himself for more than an hour, the documents say.

The emergency room doctor referred Davis to the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, where a doctor said he should be immediately hospitalized because he was a danger to himself or others, the papers say.

Davis, the younger brother of professional football players Vernon and Vontae Davis, was charged April 28 with two counts of assault with intent to kill while armed for allegedly sneaking up on people in his Petworth neighborhood in Northwest and hitting them on the head with a hammer. There have been five similar attacks, including the fatal beating of a Colorado man.

Davis was charged in two attacks; he was not charged in the slaying.


District police officers investigate tools on the front porch of a home where a teenager was arrested in connection with recent attacks in the Petworth neighborhood. Michael W. Davis was charged April 28 with two counts of assault with intent to kill while armed for allegedly sneaking up on people in his Petworth neighborhood and hitting them on the head with a hammer. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

The court papers do not indicate whether Davis displayed any violence last year, only that he needed treatment.

After the psychiatrist asked that Davis be held, a judge issued the order. The papers do not indicate what happened between May 13, when the order was issued, and May 23, when Davis was released.

The papers say Davis suffered from “auditory and visual hallucinations.” Schizophrenia and “borderline intellectual functioning” were diagnosed preliminarily. At the time, Davis was an 18-year-old high school junior who fluctuated between “blank stares and threatening, unpredictable behavior at home and in school,” the filing said.

Family, officials mum

Davis’s family has declined to comment. His attorney, Dana Page, did not return phone messages Saturday. The emergency room doctor and the psychiatrist who asked for the treatment also did not return calls. Herbert Wilfert, the lawyer appointed to represent Davis at the commitment proceedings a year ago, declined to comment, citing attorney-client privilege.

The psychiatrist noted a year ago that Davis’s behavior “is appropriate at first, then becomes paranoid,” the papers say.

Doctors were told that he had a history of “psychotic issues/hospitalizations” and had not been caring for himself or taking medication appropriately, the document said. Davis had been a patient at the facility once before, in October 2008, the filing said, but no details about his symptoms during that visit were provided.

Davis “needs stabilization to be able to function socially/school,” the petition said.

On May 13, a judge ordered that Davis be held for a week of emergency observation and diagnosis. However, after that week, there were no requests for a longer commitment. On May 23, Magistrate Judge Joan L. Goldfrank ordered the matter closed.

Davis comes from a family of prominent athletes. Two of his brothers play in the National Football League: Vernon Davis, a tight end for the San Francisco 49ers, and Vontae Davis, a cornerback with the Miami Dolphins. Like Michael Davis, they grew up in the Emerson Street rowhouse with their grandmother.

Police deploy

Davis was arrested after police were deployed in the neighborhood following three hammer assaults in a 26-hour period about two weeks ago. In apparently random incidents, three victims suffered head injuries from a blunt object.

In an April 24 attack, Gary Dederichs, 66, a tourist from Denver, was fatally injured in the 800 block of Emerson Street. A medical examiner determined that Dederichs died of blunt- force trauma to the head consistent with injuries caused by a claw hammer.

Two other victims suffered serious injuries in similar assaults near the site of Dederichs’s slaying.

Police arrested Davis after undercover plainclothes officers heard a woman scream and found a victim who had been hit in the head by a man who was following her in the 800 block of Gallatin Street. Officers said they spotted Davis hiding behind a portable toilet. They chased him and witnessed him throwing away a backpack as he fled.

Hammer in backpack

Davis was arrested in the 4800 block of Illinois Avenue, and police found the backpack, which investigators said contained a hammer “with what appeared to be hair on the claw end.”

Authorities charged Davis with the April 26 attack on Gallatin Street and an April 25 attack in the 200 block of Ingraham Street.

In the April 25 attack, a man told police that he had said hello to a young man with a backpack and that when he turned to look at his dog, he was hit from behind by something more than a fist, officials said in court filings.

Davis faces several proceedings in D.C. Superior Court this week, including a preliminary hearing and mental observation hearing.

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