About a month after Natalya’s case was dismissed, her body was found as a result of a suspected self-inflicted gunshot wound. This blog post is dedicated to the life of Natalya Deville and her family.
“In December 2017, I was burned out. I planned on taking some time off during the holiday season to rest up, but before my holiday began, a prospective client came in needing a criminal defense lawyer. The client is a Ukrainian immigrant who did the right thing locating the owner of a lost dog. What should have been a ‘thank you so much’ moment by the dog’s owner, turned into a cop bullying a lady and endangering the safety of some of the most vulnerable people among us.” – Tommy Davenport, 2013 TLC Graduate, and Faculty Member
Tommy Davenport is a criminal defense and personal injury lawyer in Louisiana and the founder of his firm The Davenport Firm, APLC. Tommy graduated from the TLC’s July College in 2013 and joined the faculty in 2017. “We got a little screwed up in law school to focus on the facts that drive legal analysis and it’s really the other way around. Since attending the Trial Lawyers College, my preparation is much more substantial. I now spend a lot more time seeing things from the client’s perspective, working with the witnesses on more groundwork and learning what has happened and why.”
Tommy represented Natalya, a Ukrainian immigrant living in Louisiana at the time of the incident. Natalya found a missing dog and tried to contact the owner of the dog before her 12-hour shift at a group home for the mentally challenged. When she couldn’t contact the owner, she left the dog at home for the day and decided she would pursue more efforts in locating the owner later that evening. When Natalya was in the middle of her shift, a police officer entered the group home and arrested her in front of her patients for ‘theft of property’. The owner of the dog had been contacted by a friend of Natalya’s and was given the phone number of the group home where Natalya worked. He accused her of stealing his dog over the phone and told her he wanted to pick his dog up as soon as possible to which Natalya responded he could pick his dog up after her shift, because she could not leave work due to the type of work she does in addition to her being the only responsible adult at the group home. The dog owner hung up, very unmannered and called the police to tell them this woman had stolen his dog.
When the police officer approached Natalya, he wouldn’t listen to her side of her story. He actually wrote that in his report. When Natalya tried to explain what went on, he wouldn’t listen to her and said, ‘Well, this is not Russia!’ Referring to her as Russian. ‘When you take someone’s property, that is considered theft.’ “When she was in my office in December, she explained to me that this was the type of situation she wanted to leave behind when she fled Ukraine. This guy arresting her endangered the lives of the people in the group home and then he went into her home without a warrant or consent. It was understood that we have corruption here just like in any other country.”
A Motion to Suppress
In this criminal case, Tommy needed to discover the story, develop a strong defense and get the client’s story told through a number of witnesses, both friendly and adversarial. During Tommy’s sessions with his client and her friend in discovering the story, the timeline demonstrated that although his client’s friend found out this guy owned the dog, it was not communicated to his client before the phone call. “Just because the friend may have known that the dog belonged to the man does not necessarily mean the client knew.” Tommy developed Natalya’s defense and story through others.“Developing the story in a functioning defense was totally TLC inspired and driven. In fact, the main defense witness felt she would be more damaging than helpful. It was not until we slowed her story down and walked through it, did it become clear her testimony was essential. It was incredible to see how discovering the story made such a difference in this case. Role reversal allowed us to see the events from different perspectives. The power brought on by a difference in perception changed the course of the client’s defense and, necessarily, her freedom.”
Tommy filed a motion to suppress based on the fact that the police officer went to her work and knew he was going to arrest her, then drove her about three miles, goes through her purse, and enters her home. He also didn’t provide Natalya her Miranda rights when he’s required to. “There was no way the government could overcome this, that’s where the case really came through. Without her admission of having this alleged stolen property and not having the evidence proving this, there was absolutely no evidence to convict her. I think the government saw that. You just can’t enter somebody’s home in that way. There’s just no exception.” When the government reviewed this information in Tommy’s motion, it was not hard to obtain a dismissal. Tommy was almost able to resolve this case before it began. “I had problems getting a good start on how to handle this case, particularly the suppression issues and cross-examining the cop. I spoke to a number of people in our tribe, visited early on with developing a strategy, to case development in unleashing my inner ‘junkyard dog’ so I wouldn’t go too far with the cop. The support and guidance from our tribe made a huge difference. When you think about it, we all have busy practices, bills to pay, and families to tend to during our days. People taking time out of their day to listen and support each other is nothing short of magic.”
Tommy’s final statement, “What tugged on my heart the most was what the client said, ‘I left Ukraine to get away from this type of corruption. I came to the land of the free to be free of it.’ This angered me because it’s true. It also embarrassed me. When we left the court, I invited her to lunch. I explained that even ‘Russians’ have rights in this country and she is now a living and breathing example of that. She was a little overwhelmed by the win and my statement but she was very happy with both.”