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If you think the headline is awful, wait until you hear the entirety of this tragedy. A couple of days ago, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals released a judgement that agreed with a lower court’s ruling to strip away the immunity of federal agent Norman Conley. The case against Conley is that in conducting a “sting” concerning the sale of a paperweight with a “rice-sized” amount of moon rock in it, he kept 74-year-old Davis standing in a parking lot in urine-soaked pants for almost two hours as he questioned her. The story gets worse.
Joann Davis, and her late husband Robert, worked together at North American Rockwell, which had a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”) in connection with the nation’s space program. 4 DAVIS V. UNITED STATES By all accounts, Robert was a brilliant engineer, and he ultimately became a manager of North American Rockwell’s Apollo project. While working on the space program, he received many items of memorabilia, including two lucite paperweights. One contained a rice-grain-sized fragment of lunar material, or “moon rock;” the other contained a small piece of the Apollo 11 heat shield. According to unverified family lore, the paperweights were given to Robert by Neil Armstrong in recognition of Robert’s service to NASA.
When Robert died in 1986, Joann retained possession of the paperweights. She married her current husband, Paul Cilley, in 1991. Davis began experiencing financial hardship in 2011. Her son was severely ill, having had over 20 surgeries and requiring expensive medical care. In addition, she unexpectedly had to raise several grandchildren when their mother, Davis’s youngest daughter, died.
Davis decided that she would try to find out what she could sell her moon memorabilia for in the hopes of paying off medical expenses and raising grandchildren. She looked around and then contacted NASA to tell them she was trying to sell the pieces of memorabilia that she owned because her late husband had given them to her BECAUSE HE FUCKING WORKED ON SENDING PEOPLE TO THE MOON!
Davis’s email was forwarded to the NASA Office of Inspector General at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where Norman Conley was a special agent and criminal investigator. Conley’s supervisor instructed him to investigate whether Davis indeed possessed a moon rock and to obtain a Registered Confidential Source to initiate DAVIS V. UNITED STATES telephone contact with her. A few hours after Davis sent the email, Conley’s source called her, posing as a broker named “Jeff” who previously worked on the “space-shuttle program,” was well-known at NASA, learned of Davis’s email to NASA, and would help her sell the paperweights.
Davis spoke with this fake “Jeff” on the phone several times, even explaining to him that she wanted to make sure everything was legal, that she wasn’t going to hide it on her taxes as she wasn’t that kind of person. Did this deter Norman Conley from pulling the American flag-sized stick out of his ass? Not at all. Conley used the feeblest of reasoning to get himself a warrant to “search Davis and seize the moon rock paperweight.” After setting up a “meeting” at a Denny’s, Conley grabbed Davis violently, along with another septuagenarian friend of hers, and then took them to the Denny’s parking lot where they patted them down for weapons, detained, and questioned them for at least 90 minutes—standing. Davis says she told them twice that she needed to use the bathroom, but that wasn’t good enough and so Davis had to stand in her urine-soaked clothing while this asshole who might not be able to spell “moon” played Elliot Ness.
After the sting operation was complete and NASA lunar experts were able to confirm the moon rock’s authenticity, Conley opened a full investigation. The investigation was closed when the U.S. Attorney in Orlando, Florida, formally declined to prosecute Davis. Davis’s son died seven months after the incident.
Good job, dick. And while the good news is that this appeals court decision means Davis can continue forward with her case against Conley and hopefully receive even more money to help cover the medical expenses and child-rearing expenses she faces, the sad news is that her son has since passed on according to the LA Times. I hope she gets all of Conley’s money and then some.