Drake Davis : LSU fall practice

Drake Davis runs a drill during LSU preseason camp Aug. 14, 2018.

Former LSU wide receiver Drake Davis was released from probation Monday morning in a 2018 domestic battery case, receiving a stern warning from the judge while once again sidestepping jail time.

His release was the latest development in a saga that got Davis expelled from LSU and helped spur larger investigations into how the university handles complaints about dating violence and sexual misconduct. The decision came just days before the law firm Husch Blackwell is expected to release the results of a sweeping review probing how university leaders, including in the athletic department, have handled such matters over the past several years. 

Nineteenth Judicial District Judge Christopher Dassau agreed to terminate the probation sentence Monday morning even as he admitted that Davis had clearly failed to meet the conditions of his release, which included avoiding criminal behavior. Davis, 24, was arrested in July 2019 on new domestic abuse counts involving a different victim just months after pleading guilty in the 2018 case. But he has avoided significant jail time over and over again. 

After Davis was arrested in the second case, East Baton Rouge prosecutors quickly filed a motion to revoke his probation in the first, requesting that he serve out the remainder of his sentence, but Judge Richard Anderson allowed him to bond out anyway. Anderson set a hearing on the revocation request, but that ended up getting repeatedly pushed back, in part because of COVID restrictions, according to prosecutors. 

The postponements continued until Monday, when Davis effectively ran out the clock on his two-year probation. 

Prosecutors offered no objection when an attorney for Davis requested the probation be terminated, though Assistant District Attorney Melanie Fields noted the 2019 arrest and Dassau issued a warning before he announced the probation "terminated unsatisfactorily."

"This behavior isn't getting you anywhere. In fact, it's taking you in the wrong direction," the judge said. "Hopefully you've learned something."

Jade Lewis, the former LSU tennis star who has publicly identified herself as the victim in the 2018 case, criticized the handling of the case Monday.

"In situations like that when a judge makes requirements and they aren't complete, it shows the lack of respect he has for everyone," Lewis said.

Her father, David Lewis, said that prosecutors assured him when Davis pleaded guilty that there would be harsher consequences in store if he was accused of further domestic violence. 

"We're astounded by this because we were told that if he ever laid a hand on another girl, he'd go to jail for five years," David Lewis said. 

Fields, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted both cases against Davis, said she filed the motion to revoke in hopes of keeping Davis behind bars following the 2019 arrest, though she disputed the notion that anyone in her office would have promised a specific prison sentence. She said prosecutors had planned to take the second case to trial, until the pandemic halted jury trials and pushed the case toward another plea deal. 

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"If he had been convicted at trial, then we would have been in a whole different position," she said, explaining that a felony conviction would have made the probation revocation more likely and led to substantive jail time between the two cases.

If Davis is arrested yet again on similar counts, another domestic violence conviction would automatically become a felony because of his history.

In court on Monday, Dassau talked to Davis about getting control of his emotions, learning to peacefully resolve conflicts and walking away from an argument rather than resorting to violence. "Don't be so easily provoked by the people in your life," the judge said.

Davis said he completed a domestic abuse intervention program and is focusing on school. He was kicked out of LSU in 2019 but later enrolled at Southern University.

Jade Lewis has publicly criticized LSU officials in recent months for mishandling numerous complaints about Davis abusing her. 

With the Husch Blackwell report looming, victims of dating violence and sexual misconduct at LSU say they are hoping for substantive change and accountability — for perpetrators of abuse in addition to the people who protected them.

Davis was not arrested until August 2018 in the Lewis case, though high-ranking university officials had been informed of the alleged abuse several months before his arrest. Davis was arrested again the following month on additional counts of battery, strangulation and violating a protective order. 

During the police investigations, multiple witnesses told officers they were afraid of coming forward because they feared repercussions from influential Baton Rouge businessman and Democratic political donor Jim Bernhard, who took in Davis when he was growing up and helped raise him. Bernhard has also been a major donor to programs spearheaded by the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's office, including Truce, which aims to stem youth violence in Baton Rouge. 

Davis ultimately pleaded guilty on March 1, 2019, to two counts of battery of a dating partner and one count of violating a protective order, all misdemeanors. The strangulation and more serious counts against him were dismissed, and he was sentenced to 18 months in jail, though the judge suspended almost that entire sentence and instead placed Davis on probation for two years.

Imposing a suspended sentence gives the court the option to revoke probation and jail a defendant if he violates the conditions of release. That's what prosecutors requested after Davis was arrested in July 2019, though the hearing never happened. 

In the 2019 case involving another woman, Davis later pleaded guilty to third offense battery of a dating partner in November 2020. Again, a judge suspended a jail sentence and placed him on probation for a year. The judge also ordered him to talk to a youth football team in Baton Rouge. Davis remains on probation in that case.

Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.