Much has been made about the LPD’s refusal to release a video purported to contain evidence of Tevin Lewis’ shooting by officers in the department’s crime suppression unit. And to be sure, that video warrants the clamor. According to testimony by Shelia Carter, owner of the DVR on which the video evidence resides, the video will clearly demonstrate that Lewis was in flight from officers when he was shot in the back.
It is, of course, the police’s legal prerogative not to release that video. They have plenty of precedent to stand on in their ongoing refusal to make the video public while their own investigation was in process, "shadowed" as it were by the FBI and Louisiana State Police, so you can’t blame them in a litigious sense for not complying. Doing so would have been an act of good faith, but not a legal obligation.
Transparency has been sorely lacking in the rapport between police and the public since the beginning. Chief Jim Craft’s refrain at his city council appearance on Nov 1 was that the incident demonstrated the necessity of "compliance" with police order. Craft maintained that six men were located outside of the residence the suppression unit was raiding on a citizen tip, and that Lewis was the only of the bunch who failed to obey, immediately taking off on a blind sprint.
We can talk all day about whether it’s a good idea for a convicted felon to run from police while allegedly holding a gun. Surely that doesn’t make Lewis a sympathetic figure, at least from the outset, but we’re generally led to believe that officers discharge their weapons in only the most extreme instances of danger, and not as a method of apprehension. In any case, appealing to bad character when a suspect is also a victim is dehumanizing.
Versions of the story presented by Craft to the council and presented by witnesses to shooting at a NAACP press conference held in September are dramatically different, and the zipper on the case as it gets passed to the district attorney’s office and a grand jury doesn’t do the public any favors in making heads or tails of it.
“When will they realize the actions of police actually prevent their ability to properly police in the African-American community,” Lewis’ attorney John Milton asks me rhetorically. “African Americans call for help all the time. We’re disappointed at the rate of the response, and we’re disappointed when the police get there; when a person calls for help and gets a gun pointed in their face.”
Craft says five of the six men complied and were charged with "various things." Unless we’re talking about a different group of people, witnesses at the NAACP presser insisted that the men were rounded up at gun point, handcuffed and detained for several hours. I’m told by Milton that one even had a baby in his arms. Three were brought into police custody and further interrogated for information concerning either the shooting of Lewis or the alleged stash house that was raided down the street from where they were congregated. None was formally charged. That’s a dramatically different story than the one Craft told the council.
When reached for comment on that conflict of information, Craft said it was in the district attorney’s hands and he couldn’t comment further.
Craft says the DVR machine obtained from Shelia Carter was seized legally with a warrant.
The warrant itself, issued by 15th JDC Commissioner Thomas Frederick, indicates the video will demonstrate evidence of "attempted murder of a police officer," a decidedly different charge than the three ultimately levied against Lewis. LPD public information officer Cpl. Paul Mouton says the discrepancy is due to the lapse of incident and investigation, and that charges on warrants are based on what the investigator knows at the time.
But based on the amount of eyewitness testimony, and the obvious fact that the shooting officer would likely know if Lewis tried to kill him, it’s hard to buy that line of reasoning. Sure, I sort of get that if police sought the video to demonstrate aggravated flight but ultimately charged Lewis with "resisting arrest," the discrepancy could be mostly procedural. But Carter claims that officers in her residence essentially strong-armed her into turning the whole machine over, even after she offered to deliver a copy of the video via a jump drive.
When reached for comment on that conflict of information, Craft said it was in the DA’s hands and he couldn’t comment further.
All of this speculation is not to suggest a conspiracy, or even the most felonious cover-up on the part of the police. I have no doubt in my mind that Lewis did not deserve to be shot, but that doesn’t necessarily line up with basic criminal intent by the firing officer. Over and over, the refrain from the black community has been to beg for transparency, and the LPD doesn’t seem to deliver.
From a strategic point of view, the police have played their cards right. Now pending verdict by a grand jury, information is now under lock and key. Meanwhile, suspicion will continue to boil and answers can only be imagined.