ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE LAW — (Newport News)

Original article no longer available

OFFICER’S TROUBLED PAST CATCHES UP WITH HIM

Daily Press (Newport News, VA)

August 2, 1992

Author: CHERYL L. REED Daily Press
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To his buddies, Chad Davisson was a bold cop who relieved stress by strolling into country-western bars looking for a fight, a guy who joked that he’d kill drug dealers other cops couldn’t catch.

To folks in Denbigh, he was “Officer Chad” – a friendly cop whom even drunks liked; a Crime Watch leader who taught residents how to avoid having their homes burglarized.

To those who wear the uniform of the Newport News police, Davisson was a complex, driven, likable but sometimes egotistical co-worker. Some wondered how he’d bought a boat and a $100,000 house on a patrolman’s salary.

Now police investigators say the real Chad Davisson is something no one imagined: a thief who used his police training to steal from those he was paid to protect, a burglar with the nerve to invite his victims to breakfast, a cop with a tarnished badge.

As the seven-year police veteran waits to be tried, friends and family contend he is a good man in the middle of a breakdown, haunted by an ugly childhood and despondent over a failing marriage. By their accounts, Chad Davisson’s betrayal of the badge was the latest episode of a life in which he has repeatedly turned from those whose love and respect he wanted most.

This is the story of a lawman who wound up on the wrong side of the law.

Days after he was charged in May with running a burglary ring, Officer Chad Davisson sat in a prison psychiatric hospital. A hospital gown replaced his police uniform. Once the fourth-generation cop had been surrounded by young officers who wanted to learn his ways. Now he spent his days with psychiatrists who wanted to learn whether he was sane enough to stand trial.

In the visiting room, Davisson hunched his huge frame close to the mesh screen that divided him from his mother and brother.

“He told us he was going to kill himself,” said Davisson’s younger brother Curt.  “He said he could do it so it wasn’t messy. He said he’d seen it done before. He said if they put him in jail, the other inmates will kill him.”

Davisson reassured his mother and brother that he had not succumbed to drugs. But he refused to talk about the charges: five counts of burglary, five counts of grand larceny, one of attempted burglary and one of attempted bribery.

His mother tried to comfort him. She reminded him about his Catholic faith and told him to pray and believe that God would take care of him.

“I don’t believe in God,” he told her.

Sure that their visit had not overcome his despair, unsure they would see him alive again, mother and brother reluctantly left Davisson, a fallen cop, alone in his hospital prison.

Davisson’s double life began to unravel, police say, when he offered another officer money to not testify in a drunken-driving case against a friend. That began an administrative inquiry that blossomed into an internal investigation so secret that it was conducted out of a detective’s home. Only four people in the police department knew who was being watched. No one guessed the probe would lead them to charge one of their own as the burglar who had been hitting Denbigh businesses for months.

Juggling half-truths had become virtually routine to the 33-year-old Davisson, say the detectives who watched him for months before his arrest. And that’s how he began May 16, the day he was busted.

Davisson asked for the day off at the last minute. He said he had to go to Michigan because his brother was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident.

His story was partially true. He was headed to Michigan, where family members were expecting him. And his older brother Chuck was disabled in a motorcycle accident – several years ago.

Davisson got as far as Richmond.

He was stopped by State Police and the Newport News detectives who had been trailing him for days. His red pickup truck was loaded with stolen auto parts taken during recent burglaries, police say.

Stripped of his police ID, Davisson sat in the back of a cruiser similar to his own, handcuffed.

The double life was over.

Friends and family speculate that Davisson’s steep slide began last summer after he separated from his wife, Carol Jean Fortini.

He started to drink and frequent bars, friends said. After he left his wife, he bought a convertible sports car. He started seeing another woman. Fortini, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told friends her husband was having a midlife crisis and would eventually come back home.

But Davisson was having more than a midlife crisis. He was having a mental breakdown, friends and family say.

He told friends he was taking the anti-depressant drug Prozac and going to Alcoholics Anonymous to cope with his father’s drinking. He cut off old friends and created a world of his own.

The split with Fortini was also causing financial problems: He was maintaining two households – one for himself and one for his wife and children. Police say that’s when he created his own way of handling the crisis: burglary.

Some officers say they think Davisson had grown bored with his life and marriage and decided to risk it all “for the thrill of it.” They characterize Davisson as a man who was well-liked and respected, but who craved attention.

“I just think he snapped,” brother Curt said.

Another brother, Chet, thinks the burglaries were a distress signal: “He is screaming for help.”

“Everything that has happened does not make sense except for excessive stress, depression and some type of alcohol or drug abuse,” said Dale Bennett, who has known Davisson since 1989.

When he first befriended Davisson, Bennett saw him as the perfect father and a man who easily won respect from children – including Bennett’s. Davisson frequently dropped by the Bennett home for dinner. He let Bennett’s children sit on his lap in the police car while they pretended to drive.

Thinking back, Bennett saw signs of trouble in his friend’s life.

Davisson’s parents’ divorce made him determined to succeed as a husband and father, Bennett said. Friends say he seemed obsessed with his two daughters, now 4 and 2. Often at dinner parties, Davisson would play with his children instead of socializing with the adults.

Family life was not enough to ease Davisson’s growing restlessness and disillusionment with his job, Bennett and other friends say.

“I think he was frustrated seeing everything he was doing was fruitless,” Bennett said.  “It’s like: `I put this person in jail, the court system is a joke, and they’re right back out on the street.’ Maybe he finally just succumbed. The stresses of marital life. The high house payment.”

Bennett said Davisson was discouraged when he wasn’t promoted to sergeant, which could have helped him out financially. Police question that story. They say no records indicate Davisson was seeking a promotion or ever took the sergeant’s exam.

Bennett says Davisson continually lived beyond his means. And family members say Davisson complained about having trouble paying his bills.

When Davisson joined the Newport News police force in 1985, his starting salary was $14,810. His wife was in the Air Force, stationed at Langley Air Force Base. By the summer of 1987, their combined income was about $31,500, plus an Air Force housing allowance.

That May, Davisson and Fortini had a two-story brick house built in the Westview Lake subdivision of Hampton. They borrowed $107,550 and started making house payments of more than $1,000 a month. They had just had their first daughter.

About that time Davisson spent $17,000 on a 19-foot Chris Craft boat, friends say. He told them he paid cash. Friends remember Davisson’s anger shortly afterward, when $600 of his fishing equipment was stolen from his garage.

Known around the police department as an avid fisherman, Davisson often took co-workers and friends out in his boat. Several officers said they wondered how an officer at his pay scale could afford such a boat. Others say they understood that Fortini’s parents were helping them and that the young couple had saved money through a bond program while they were both in the service.

Some officers say Davisson often talked about not having enough money. Then, suddenly, the talk stopped.

There were more than financial problems in the Davisson household.

Bennett says Davisson was deeply troubled over child abuse he said he suffered from his father.

The few times Davisson talked about his childhood, Bennett says, it was like a nightmare he was trying to forget. The picture was always the same: young Davisson hung by his feet from a beam in his living room as he suffered blows from a board in his father’s hands.

“I think he totally cut his father off because of the pain with his childhood,” Bennett said.

He is convinced that because of the abuse Davisson had no self-esteem. “That’s why he bought a nice house, nice boat – to make him feel successful. That’s why he tried to be a good father, a good husband, and it just didn’t satisfy him.”

Although Bennett revered Davisson, he recalls strange, half-joking suggestions that have new meaning since his friend’s arrest.

Over dinner one night, Bennett recalled, Davisson leaned across the table and told him about a cellular telephone radio tower in Denbigh that had telephone equipment stored in a building at its base. Bennett, an electrician, listened intently. Then, he says, Davisson told him the lock combination that would get him in the building, and suggested that Bennett could use it to steal the equipment.

Another time, Davisson joked about  “knocking off” a big-time drug dealer because the narcotics unit could never convict the man.

“He was a maniac about getting rid of those types of people,” Bennett said.  “He took it personally, like he was trying to make the world better for his girls.”

And when Davisson was stressed out from work he would unwind by getting into fights at country-western bars, Bennett said. “He loved it because he would just walk into a place like that in his uniform and someone would try to fight him.”

In one case, Bennett said, Davisson put his cigarette out on the arm of a man he arrested for being drunk. Bennett said he saw the burn and talked to the man. And he says he questioned Davisson’s rough conduct.

“He acted real weird, as though he couldn’t stand my disapproval,” Bennett recalled. “Chad had a volatile personality – kind, but volatile. He had a hang-up with rejection.”

“He had a monstrous ego,” said one officer who recalled that the 6-foot-5-inch Davisson often tried to intimidate others with his size.

But there was a soft side. Two winters ago, when Bennett and his family ran out of heating oil, Davisson loaded up all his firewood and gave it to them.

“That’s the Chad I knew,” Bennett said.

After Davisson separated from his wife, friends and family say, he changed dramatically. He alienated himself from friends and adopted a new lifestyle.

Carol Fortini told Laurie Bennett, Dale’s wife, that she rarely saw her estranged husband, didn’t know where he lived and didn’t want to know.

Davisson said he didn’t have a phone. But family members thought it was strange that he couldn’t afford a phone but bought a used Mustang convertible.

Some say Davisson looked at the separation as his failure to be a good father and husband. They say it embarrassed him and caused him to seek new friends. He hung out at Luigi’s Pizza & Subs on Warwick Boulevard, where he became friends with Benny Kaddour, who worked there.

He also met his girlfriend, a former bartender and manager at the Crystal Inn restaurant, at Luigi’s. And it was at Luigi’s that he was introduced to the man – as yet unidentified by police – who later gave investigators the information that linked Davisson to the Denbigh burglaries.

A neighbor said Davisson’s girlfriend decorated his apartment and spent more time there than at her apartment. The two were often seen together at area bars. Davisson stopped seeing his daughters regularly and didn’t return Bennett’s phone calls. He also stopped calling and writing an old Air Force buddy, Tom Andrzejewski.

In November, Davisson was paired with rookie officer Kyle Baxter, who had been on the force less than five months. They became good friends and began spending off-hours together, officers say.

Police charge that during the next several months, Davisson – sometimes accompanied by Baxter, Kaddour and Kaddour’s roommate Neal Powell – broke into five Denbigh businesses and attempted to break into a sixth.

The manager of one of those businesses says Davisson actually invited him to breakfast while investigating one of those break-ins in uniform – brash sympathy from the man now charged with the crime.

During the same period, Davisson’s brothers and sisters in Lansing, Mich., noticed a change in him.

Curt Davisson, one of Chad’s three brothers, said he was worried. Curt said he knew Davisson had been taking medication for depression and had been having marital problems. And he was concerned about his brother’s drinking.

“Maybe it was his marriage,” Curt said. “I always thought he would be better as a single person. I always looked at him as a Magnum P.I.”

At Christmas, Davisson’s younger brother, Chet, called Carol Fortini and was surprised when his brother answered the phone.

Davisson told him he had been shot and stabbed but refused to talk about it, Chet said. Davisson also talked as though he and Carol were trying to get back together.

Police officials say there are no records to support Davisson’s claim that he had been shot or stabbed.

Chet didn’t hear from his brother again until the spring of this year. He says that’s when Davisson called and asked the value of various car parts and said he was going to bring some parts to Michigan.

Davisson’s sudden separation from his wife and family was not the first time he created a new life.

In the early 1980s – after four years in the Air Force and earning a two-year college degree – Davisson came home to tell his parents he was getting married.

Davisson’s father and stepmother, Margaret, were angered. Carol Fortini’s plan to stay in the Air Force and keep her last name infuriated them.

“They lived together for awhile and then made preparations to get married,” his father said. “That’s where I put my foot down. I told them to be quiet about it. But they had a big wedding anyway.”

Expecting his family to love his wife as much as he did, Davisson was devastated when his father and stepmother openly disapproved of Carol.

Davisson and his stepmother argued fiercely about the marriage. Chet Davisson said his stepmother felt Davisson was being disrespectful. During their dispute, she became so enraged, family members recount, that she tried to stab Davisson with a kitchen knife.

“He grabbed her arm and told her to drop it or he would break her wrist,” brother Curt said.  “He packed up and never came back.”

Davisson’s father didn’t attend the wedding in Ohio, where Carol grew up. Chad told family members he felt betrayed. Father and son haven’t spoken in more than nine years, and Charles Davisson has never seen his two granddaughters in Virginia.

Charles Davisson admits he seldom had time for his children. He worked two jobs after he separated and eventually divorced Chad’s mother, Mary, when Chad was about 10. An avid outdoorsman, Davisson occasionally took his sons hunting and fishing.

Davisson denies he had a drinking problem and denies he ever abused his children or hung them up and spanked them. His son Chet agrees. But several of the other five Davisson siblings recount the same horror of being beaten while they hung from the ceiling beam.

Chad Davisson’s youngest brother, Curt, says his father also abused their mother. At one point, he says, the abuse was so severe that Davisson’s mother checked into a mental hospital just to get away from him.

“My dad’s got a lot of dark secrets,” said Curt, who lives only miles from his father in Lansing but who says he hasn’t seen or talked to him in five years. “He was a mean son of a bitch.”

Tom Andrzejewski, who became Davisson’s friend when they were both stationed in Alaska in the Air Force, has a different view of Davisson’s parents. After leaving the service, he lived with them for a time and eventually settled in Lansing, too.

He doesn’t buy the stories of abuse.

“He used to talk highly of his dad,” Andrzejewski said. “I lived with his dad for a year, and Chad didn’t stretch the truth. His dad seemed pretty up-front and honest. He seemed like an honor roll kind of guy.”

Estranged as they are, Charles Davisson recounts fond memories of his son. He describes Chad as “a loner” – but recalls that he played basketball with Earvin  “Magic” Johnson in junior high. He says Chad was an exceptional student who graduated early from high school and then joined the Air Force like his father and brothers. He says Chad was offered a position as an honor guard at the White House while an airman but turned it down because he thought he wouldn’t fit in. To his father, Chad was the son who couldn’t wait to follow in his footsteps – and do better.

The marriage was their falling out.

“Once he got married, he slipped off into the shadows,” Davisson’s father said.  “We assumed he was busy doing his thing.”

Chad Davisson always wanted to be a cop. It was a family tradition. His father worked as a security officer for the General Motors plant in Lansing. Davisson’s grandfather was a Michigan state trooper. And his great-grandfather had been a guard at the maximum security prison in Jackson, Mich.

The last time Andrzejewski saw his friend, on a visit in 1989, Davisson told him that he wanted to get a master’s degree and had started taking classes. His goal, Davisson said, was to be chief of police in Newport News.

When the handcuffs locked around his wrists in May, their cold reality mocked Davisson’s dream of becoming top cop.

He was cast out of the police brotherhood. Other officers quickly denied having any relationship with him and refused to contribute to any effort to post his $18,000 bond.

“He must feel like he has nothing to lean on,” said an officer who worked with him in Denbigh. “He has dishonored himself and his uniform.”

Davisson sat in jail for nearly two weeks. Even his wife was leery of putting up the bond money, afraid he might try to shoot himself with one of his guns. Eventually, he was bailed out by Denbigh businessman Bobby Burcher, the man whose drunken driving ticket police say Davisson had tried to fix.

Free on bond, said to be living with his girlfriend, Davisson waits now to face the burglary and bribery charges in court. He declined to be interviewed for this article.

“If he’s going to kill himself, maybe it would be best for him,” Curt Davisson said.  “It’s better than being locked up in a mental hospital or put in jail where someone else is going to kill you. But I’d like to think of him as living to be a gray-haired old man.”

Caption:
Staff art (color) by SHINIKO FLOYD

Man in jail cell

Staff photo (b&w) by RANSY MORR

Ex-police officer Chad Davisson stands beside his Newport News police cruiser in this February 1989 photo. Police investigators say the real Chad Davisson is someone no one imagined: a thief who stole from those he was paid to protect.
Memo:  Special section

Hardcopy of this article is being kept in library.
Edition:  Final
Section:  Local
Page:  B1
Dateline:  NEWPORT NEWS
Copyright 1992, 2000 Daily Press (Newport News, VA)
Record Number:  9208020108