Black leaders demand release of Lewis shooting video

by Christiaan Mader

While answers continue to loom concerning the police-involved shooting of Tevin Lewis, the black community demands transparency from the Lafayette Police Department.

[Editor's Note: Tevin Lewis was released from the hospital and booked into Lafayette Parish Correctional Center on Sept. 17. The story has been updated to include that information.]

Leaders of the black community continue to demand the release of a digital video recorder said to contain video evidence of the Sept. 12 shooting of Tevin Lewis, who is expected to make a full recovery. NAACP President Marja Broussard, The Rev. John Milton of the Imani Temple (also one Lewis’ attorneys) and attorney Carol Powell-Lexing met Friday with police officials, including Public Information Officer Cpl. Paul Mouton and top LPD brass.

The police declined to return the device to Shelia Carter, the Soulier Street resident who owns the DVR, pending an internal LPD investigation into the shooting.

Mouton said in an email to The Independent that the FBI is assisting the LPD with "enhancing" the video in question for analysis, and will review the LPD investigation upon completion. Police officials told the assembled black leaders in the meeting that the investigation will be completed within a 30-day window, which the NAACP says is unsatisfactory given that the video can be reviewed and returned to Carter on a shorter time line. There is a concern among black leaders that while the video is held behind closed doors it could be tampered with or inadvertently destroyed, losing the clarity of evidence purported to be on the DVR.

“It was vague on that issue, when, if and how the video will ever be released,” said Milton of the police's response to the public records request handed over in person by black leaders.

In a phone conversation with The Independent, Broussard later expressed concern about the LPD’s claim that a copy of the surveillance video had not been made. Broussard said that police officials explained in Friday's meeting that the DVR device was needed to ensure the video could be properly enhanced or analyzed by the FBI, and that making a copy would risk deleting the video with the errant push of a button.

On Sept. 17, Carter called LPD to request the return of the player but was told by Detective Ben Suire that the LPD had sent the device to the FBI. Carter says when she contacted the FBI, Special Agent Troy Chenevert indicated that the FBI had not received the device but that only a copy or a clip of the video was necessary for analysis. Carter once again requested the return of the video at her meeting today, to which police indicated that they were still in the process of delivering the video to “Quantico,” likely referring to the FBI offices in Quantico, Va. Ostensibly, the contents of the DVR show the events of Sept. 12 as they transpired.

Andres Landor, a former narcotics detective, tells The Independent that copying of audio or video evidence is standard procedure for crime scene investigators, and that it is unthinkable that the police would not have copied the video as a precaution to preserve the information contained. He further notes that it’s highly unlikely investigators would fear accidental deletion of the evidence in the process of making copies, and that the claim was likely a "stall tactic."

The DVR was obtained via search warrant issued by 15th Judicial District Court Commissioner Thomas Frederick. The charge listed on the warrant is "Attempted First Degree Murder of a Police Officer," which is not one of the three charges Lewis was arrested on. The Independent submitted a public records request to the LPD for the release of the affidavit to secure the warrant. The affidavit was submitted by officer Larry Theriot II, in which he states, we can only assume, that sufficient evidence existed to charge Lewis with attempted first-degree murder of a police officer. Again, that is not a charge Lewis is facing.

Mouton responded that the affidavit is part of the criminal investigation and is thus not public record.

While their leaders met with police, members of the black community met in protest of the police's lack of transparency. “What do we want? The video. When do want it? Now!” intoned chants from the small gathering in front of the police headquarters on East University Avenue.

Among the protesters were eyewitnesses to the shooting who claim that the video will exonerate Lewis of any wrongdoing, and demonstrate that an illegal use of force was used in the discharging of the officer’s service weapon. One eyewitness, Ronald Boutte, who gave testimony at an NAACP press conference held earlier this week, reported that Lewis outran officers, who then shot him from behind to stop pursuit. Boutte speculated that Lewis ran because he was on parole, but that he did not see the weapon said in a Sept. 12 police report to be tied to Lewis’ arm. Lewis was arrested for possession of a firearm, resisting an officer and illegal carrying of weapons. Lewis had no warrants at the time of the shooting, however.

“I’ve been knowing T.J. [Lewis] since he was about 12. He is a world-class sprinter. Ain’t no way that cop was gonna catch him,” said Boutte.

“That’s why they shot him,” said another witness, finishing Boutte’s thought.

“The video will show everything. I was there, the video will clarify. But that’s why they won’t listen to us. Why would they take the video? Think about it,” said that second witness, who declined to be named but claimed to be one of the seven witnesses detained without charge on the night of the shooting. “I was apprehended for no reason,” he said. “Handcuffed and all that for no reason. I was brought in as a witness, quote unquote, and held without a warrant. They handcuffed us to the wall for about three or four hours.”

Tevin Lewis

Without release of the surveillance video, speculation as to what exactly happened that resulted in the shooting of Tevin Lewis lingers, and mistrust between the LPD and the black community is growing — building on allegations of systemic racism in the department surrounding the lenient discipline of William White, an officer caught using racial invective toward black citizens and in reference to his fellow officers.

While the meeting today failed to produce a copy of the video and a full independent investigation of the shooting, black leaders remain optimistic that the police will redress their grievances.

“I think that they will [address the black community’s demands],” said Milton. “They may not voluntarily, but they will.”