A former special agent in charge of the FBI’s Denver field office who helped capture Saddam Hussein in Iraq has died.
James Davis suffered a heart attack while walking his dog Friday morning, according to an email from the Hickenlooper for Colorado senate campaign. Davis served as executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety and Homeland Security when John Hickenlooper was governor.
Davis led the FBI team responsible for questioning, fingerprinting and getting DNA samples from Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, when he was pulled from an underground hiding spot in ad-Dawr, Iraq on Dec. 13, 2003.
When Davis was assigned to lead the FBI office in Denver in 2008, he told a Denver Post reporter that his new job was a reward after living in a trailer for nearly four years, chasing down terrorism leads in Iraq and Afghanistan and looking for al-Qaeda operatives throughout the Middle East.
Davis kept a photograph of him and Hussein, who refused to turn for a profile mug shot after his capture by American forces. In the picture, Hussein is facing a wall where a photograph of President Bush is taped above the dictator’s bed.
“He shook. He was just a sick, old man,” Davis said in the 2008 interview. “He was just coughing. He was not healthy and he had not eaten well.”
Davis arrived in Denver just in time to supervise FBI agents from across the country who came to town to provide extra security for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. While in Denver, Davis directed the local investigation of shuttle driver Najibullah Zazi in 2009, which was part of an international terrorism probe of a plot to bomb New York City subways
Davis was a Detroit native. He joined the FBI at 24 after earning an accounting degree at Michigan State University and working as a certified public accountant in Chicago, according to his biography on the FBI’s website. In his first bureau assignment, he worked on a three-year undercover operation called Silver Shovel that ended with several convictions, including those of six Chicago aldermen, in a drugs and bribery scandal.
After his 26-year FBI career ended, Hickenlooper appointed Davis to serve in his cabinet as public safety and homeland security advisor and to lead the department. During his three-year tenure, Davis oversaw 13 presidential-declared disasters, according to his biography with the Bose Public Affairs Group website where he is listed as a senior policy advisor.
After leaving the Hickenlooper administration, Davis stayed in Colorado to work as a security consultant. He most recently worked as a security advisor in Denver to the National Football League.
In 2014, he worked with the Denver Department of Public Safety to help reform its sheriff’s department after a series of high-profile excessive force cases caused the city to pay out millions in settlements and left a scar on the city’s law enforcement. He advised Mayor Michael Hancock and helped the city find a consulting firm to analyze the department.
“That was when we were having great challenges in the Denver Sheriff Department,” said Mary Dulacki, chief deputy director of public safety. “His assistance, guidance and input were invaluable. We needed some outside help. We needed someone with credibility and some years under his belt.”
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