Jose Davilla

Background

Jose Davilla was a Mexican-American farmworker from Bownsville, Texas. Davila was shot and killed by Oceana County Sheriff Marland Littlebrant on October 6, 1944, in the small town of Hart, Michigan. There are conflicting reports about his age at the time of the shooting. A local paper, the Mears Newz that covered the murder extensively, stated his age was nineteen. Other newspapers report his age as thirty-two.

The incident that incited the violence is not in dispute. Davila took a pair of eye glasses from Maxine English, a young white girl, outside of the town’s drugstore. The motive behind the encounter is unclear. The Mears Newz, alleges that Davila and English were friendly and taking her glasses was a prank between friends. Other newspapers claim that Davila “accosted” English and stole her glasses during a struggle.

Harry Brokering, English’s guardian, discovered that Davila had taken the girl’s glasses. Brokering demanded that Davila return English’s glasses. Davila refused. Brokering enlisted the help of Warren Holmes, a local who was standing nearby, to go find Sheriff Littlebrandt.

The two men located the sheriff, and all three went in search of Davila. They found him at a drinking fountain on the corner or State and Washington streets. The sheriff reportedly placed Davila under arrest and then began to strike him. Davila fought back. The sheriff switched from striking Davila with his fists, to using his blackjack. The altercation travelled across the street and into an alley. Brokering and Holms followed. A small crowd had also gathered but remained at a distance. It is under dispute what happened next. Reportedly, Brokering, Holmes and the sheriff observed Davila reaching for his pocket during the fracas. Littlebrandt reportedly warned Davila he was going to shoot him. Then Littlebrandt drew his weapon and shot Davila in the abdomen. Davila died shortly afterwards.

In media accounts, after the shooting, Davila was painted as a vagrant with a history of violence. However, these reports were never corroborated by any evidence. Davila was survived by one brother. Swift Lathers, the editor-in-chief of the Mears Newz, was charged with criminal libel, after calling Littlebrandt a murderer in his coverage. The trial was widely publicized. A six person jury acquitted Lathers on November 3, 1944.

Legal Status

The coroner, M.G. Wood, examined Davila later that evening. Reports differ on whether the coroner found one small utility knife or multiple knives of illegal length, in Davila’s pocket. Wood held an inquest the Tuesday after the shooting. The jury cleared Littlebrant of all wrongdoing. No other legal action was pursued in response to this shooting.