Fight the power

Walter Davidson, a 65-year-old Vietnam War veteran, recently settled a 2009 wrongful-arrest lawsuit with the city of Charleston, which paid him $50,000 in damages after a charge of disorderly conduct was dismissed. He accused police officers of entering his Legare Street home without permission and roughing him up during his arrest.

Charleston officials hoped Walter Vaughan Davidson would just go away after receiving a $50,000 check a few months back to settle a wrongful-arrest lawsuit.

But that’s not Davidson’s style.

For years, the floppy-haired former soldier and accountant has bombarded city officials with hundreds of rambling, color-coded emails sharing his views on everything from budget audits and cruise ships to the Taliban and atomic bombs.

The 65-year-old Legare Street resident describes himself as “an erudite, novel, well-educated, cosmopolitan, global gadfly.”

City officials see him more as a pain in the neck.

Sandy Senn, an attorney for the city, described Davidson’s screeds as “rambling nonsense” and is recommending that officials seek a court order to block his emails “if his abuse continues.”

City officials don’t have an exact count of the emails they have received from Davidson, but Senn said the missives number hundreds upon hundreds. An outside printer once estimated that it would cost up to $15,000 just to reproduce all the emails Davidson sent to city officials, she said.

Davidson is certainly not one to muzzle his opinions if he’s got something to say — particularly if it involves his treatment at the hands of Charleston police.

The Vietnam War veteran has accused police of targeting him for harassment and aggravating the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that has left him disabled. The city’s attorneys call his claims absurd and lay the blame squarely at Davidson’s feet.

Still, Davidson is claiming victory in the suit he filed against the city last year over an incident that occurred in September 2009 when three police officers burst into his bathroom while he was rather occupied.

The officers were responding to a complaint from a neighbor who accused Davidson of cussing him out on the street and threatening him. Davidson was involved in a legal dispute with the man, and said he had simply called his nemesis “a big old bald bully.”

Police slapped handcuffs on Davidson and arrested him for disorderly conduct. He, in turn, unleashed a blizzard of emails and lodged internal-affairs complaints accusing the officers of entering his home without permission and roughing him up during the arrest. He also sued police for wrongful arrest.

One police supervisor recommended that the officers be suspended for unlawfully entering Davidson’s home and arresting him without probable cause. A higher-ranking commander disagreed with those conclusions and found that the officers acted within their legal authority, even if their actions were somewhat questionable.

Maj. Jerome Taylor stated in a July 2010 memo that the officers “could have handled the situation in a more controlled and measured way,” including issuing Davidson a ticket rather than arresting him. He ordered more training for the officers.

The charge against Davidson was later dismissed, and the state Insurance Reserve Fund, which insures the city, opted to settle his lawsuit in February by cutting him a $50,000 check.

Chris Dorsel, an attorney for the city, said the case presented difficulties because eyewitnesses and Davidson’s former neighbors, who had left the state, didn’t want to participate and “understandably wanted to end all involvement with him.”

It also would have been expensive to fly them to Charleston and house them during a trial, he said.

Davidson said he was prepared to end his dispute with the city after the settlement, but then the city’s attorneys asked him to also release police from any claims he might have in regard to an arrest in September 2010. “That wasn’t part of the deal.”

The city’s request reignited Davidson’s indignation over that arrest, which occurred at Charleston’s municipal court while he was awaiting an appearance on his disorderly-conduct charge.

Police said Davidson became loud, unruly and disruptive in the courtroom, threatened an officer and had to be restrained. He was charged with disorderly conduct, threats and a drug paraphernalia violation after officers found a pot pipe in his briefcase, according to a police report.

Davidson said the pipe was left over from a trip to Amsterdam, where marijuana is legal. He denied acting unreasonably at the courthouse and said the police again overreacted and manhandled him without cause.

He pleaded guilty to the paraphernalia count in March 2011 but contested the disorderly conduct and threats charges. A judge subsequently dismissed the latter charges after Davidson stayed out of trouble for six months.

During that time, Davidson also was barred from sending city officials, workers or police emails about his case. That period has expired and Davidson has begun his email campaign in earnest once again, this time pushing for an internal-affairs probe of his 2010 courthouse arrest.

Senn, the city attorney, said police will not continue to spend time and resources investigating “baseless complaints.” While the settlement may have encouraged Davidson to file more complaints, the city wants him to know “our generosity has screeched to a halt,” she said.

Davidson said he has no intention of backing off his campaign to end what he describes as “cafeteria-style law enforcement.”

He contends that officers are given too many options and too much discretion in handling incidents, leading to abuses of power and heavy-handed tactics used against people they don’t like — namely, people like him.