Cochise County courthouse
A special agent with the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has decided to enter a plea deal in a Cochise County court to resolve an allegation he engaged in nonconsensual sexual contact with a bartender while off-duty at a Bisbee hotel in 2020.
But first, Joseph T. Davis wants most of the case documents sealed from the public, purportedly due to potential career and safety issues.
On March 14, an attorney for Davis asked Judge Joel Larson to remove the grand jury indictment as well as any plea agreement and sentencing records from public access. The motion is opposed by the prosecutor, who argues Davis appears to be using his federal agent status to seek special treatment.
The prosecutor, Deputy County Attorney Terisha Driggs, told Larson she spoke with a senior ATF agent before responding to the motion to seal. Driggs suggests Davis is exaggerating work-related safety concerns, and pointed the judge to a 2022 press release issued by the U.S. Department of Justice about Davis’s prosecution.
The DOJ announcement even included the city and state of where Davis worked for the ATF, Driggs noted.
“The Defendant’s actions caused his identity to be brought into the public domain,” Driggs wrote. “He is now attempting to limit the public’s access to his criminal record and prevent any further media reporting.”
The criminal case against Davis stems from a social trip he and three friends made to Cochise County on Dec. 4, 2020. A 911 call around 8 p.m. from the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee reported “an extremely intoxicated” Davis allegedly put his hands under the bartender’s skirt and touched her in a sexual manner.
The four men were gone by the time local officers arrived. It then took until May 2021 for an investigator to be assigned, with Davis eventually indicted on one count of felony sexual abuse.
Davis, who does not live in Arizona, is on administrative assignment while the criminal matter is adjudicated. Court records show he plans to enter a guilty plea with the agreement of the victim to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Once the case is resolved, Davis anticipates being reinstated to his regular job. Tucson-based attorney Bobbi Berry filed the motion to seal with Larson in advance of a change of plea hearing. The motion argues Davis has an overriding interest in limiting public access to several records due to his job and to protect his family.
“His career position includes undercover work and exposure to investigations, arrests and individuals involved in extremely violent global operations,” Berry argues. “He will also be potentially testifying in criminal matters related to those investigations.”
Berry further contends the public’s long-held right of access to court records in Arizona is “minimal” compared to Davis’s interests.
“He hopes that by sealing his records he can avoid any other media reporting of his case and his conviction,” the motion notes, adding that any exposure “creates a profound risk to his safety and ability to function in his career.”
It appears Davis’s superiors at ATF may not share his concerns.
Driggs noted in her objection to the motion that senior ATF agents she spoke with said Davis was previously involved in only very limited undercover work. They do not expect him to do any future undercover work.
In addition, Driggs noted she was told by ATF officials that Davis “has no outstanding trials or cases in which he is expected to testify.”
Arizona law makes most adult criminal case records publicly available for inspection. Driggs argued that the public “has a significant interest in knowing when public servants break the law, regardless of the level of the offense” and that Davis “should not receive special treatment” based on the fact he is a law enforcement officer.
Davis’s attorney has until early April to file a reply to the arguments made by Driggs. Larson can then rule on the motion based on the various filings or or he can set the matter for oral arguments.
Another federal agent is awaiting trial in connection with the same Bisbee incident.
James Christopher McFeely is a Special Agent with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service based in Arizona. He was indicted in February 2022 on charges of felony witness tampering and obstructing a criminal investigation for actions he allegedly engaged in after learning of Davis’s conduct at the hotel.