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Notorious' Davis in trouble again Man working as informant charged with selling drugs

By JAMIE SATTERFIELD, satterfield@knews.com
December 17, 2005

A notorious alleged gang member involved in the slaying of a 5-year-old girl was trying to have his illegal cake and eat it, too, an investigator testified Friday.

To try to escape more legal woes, Melvin "Little Melvin" Davis agreed to serve as a snitch for police, but was soon caught supplying crack cocaine to high school girls, Knoxville Police Department Investigator Todd Gilreath testified at a hearing in U.S. District Court.

"He was working both sides of the game," Gilreath said.

Davis is facing federal drug charges as a result of his allegedly failed role as a police informant. He appeared at a hearing Friday before federal Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley in a bid to have evidence against him tossed out.

His attorney, Christopher Oldham, contends Gilreath was looking for an excuse to go after Davis, whom Oldham characterized as a "notorious" crime figure in Knoxville.

The chief bone of contention between Oldham and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Cook centered on Gilreath's encounter with Davis on March 9.

Gilreath testified that another police snitch told him that Davis had been selling crack since he was freed from prison in the May 1996 drive-by shooting death of Brittany Shenice Daniels in Lonsdale.

Although several gang members were involved in that fatal shooting, Davis' infamy in the case outpaced the others, in part, because the then 16-year-old initially got a sweetheart deal that put him back out on the street, where he committed more violent crimes that eventually landed him in prison.

Gilreath acknowledged that the case put Davis on the law-enforcement radar screen.

"It was a major, tragic, news-making event in our community," he said.

At the time, though, Davis was also known and referred to as Melvin Tate. Police alleged he used his mother's maiden name of Tate as a way to cloak his criminal record, although Davis staunchly denies that.

Gilreath said he believed Tate was Davis' legal name. Testimony Friday showed Davis' mother, Vanessa Tate, and his father, the Rev. James Davis, never married.

So, when the investigator encountered Davis on March 9, he asked for a driver's license check for Melvin Tate, Gilreath testified. The check revealed no record of a license issued to Tate, setting up what would ultimately be the arrest of Davis outside an East Knoxville barbershop and the discovery of crack in his sock, Gilreath said.

Oldham is trying to convince Shirley that Gilreath should have known Davis' real name and, because he didn't probe the name issue further, should not be allowed to use the crack against Davis at trial.

Gilreath said that after he found the crack in Davis' possession, Davis offered his services as an informant to avoid arrest.

"He said, 'Todd, Todd, come on. Give me a chance. Let me help myself,' " Gilreath said.

Federal authorities ultimately agreed to use him as an informant, and FBI Agent David Bukowski was assigned as his "handler," Gilreath said.

By August, Gilreath said authorities were being told "that Little Melvin was getting back into the business" of selling drugs.

On Aug. 24, Gilreath and KPD Sgt. Brian Malone encountered Davis in the parking lot of Austin-East Performing Arts & Sciences Magnet School with two female students in his vehicle, the investigator said.

Gilreath alleged that Davis had smoked marijuana with the girls and then supplied one of them with crack. Davis was then arrested.

Davis, 25, took to the witness stand briefly Friday, primarily to deny that he ever used the surname Tate.

Shirley took the issues raised Friday under advisement and said he will issue a written ruling later.

Jamie Satterfield may be reached at 865-342-6308.

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