By Chrisleen Herard
On August 30th, 20-year-old Donovan Lewis woke up to a bright weapon light searing into his room, the sounds of a barking K-9 outside his bedroom door and the burning sensation of a bullet entering his chest as he was getting up to greet the three Ohio police officers that stood inside his apartment complex at 2:30 in the morning.
“Hands! Hands! Hands! Crawl out here, crawl out!”
An officer is heard screaming at Lewis on police body cam footage while a pool of his blood stained the mattress. But it was too late. Donovan Lewis had just become yet another unarmed Black man shot by the police – a national scourge.
As reported by the Columbus Division of Police, authorities were sent to an apartment building on Sullivan Avenue, in the Hilltop neighborhood of Ohio, to serve multiple active warrants against Lewis.
Lewis was wanted on a felony charge of improper handling of a firearm, and two misdemeanor charges for a probation violation and a domestic violence and assault case in connection to his pregnant girlfriend last month.
Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant stated that officers knocked outside of Lewis’ apartment for up to 10 minutes in an attempt to gain access inside the home.
“The officers knocked on the door for several minutes…acknowledging themselves as Columbus Police officers” said Bryant in a news conference.
Once the door was opened, two people were detained before police went inside to look for Lewis. Twelve hours later, Columbus police released haunting footage that showed the fatal moment that led to the end of Lewis’ life — Officer Ricky Anderson, a 30-year police veteran, was seen handling a K-9 when he opened Lewis’ door, letting off a single round within seconds.
“Donovan was in the back room of the apartment,” said Rex Elliot, the family’s attorney, in a news conference last Thursday, “There’s no indication he was aware of what was happening outside…There was no justification…for Officer Anderson to shoot an unarmed man trying to get out of bed, as police officers were instructing him to do.”
Shortly after Officer Anderson shot Lewis, another officer can be heard in the footage saying that Lewis looked like he had something in his hand — A vape pen was later identified on the scene, however no weapon was found. Nonetheless, police moved on with the arrest procedure.
“Hands behind your back! Get your hand back, stop resisting!” Lewis’ body laid lifeless as two officers held him down to handcuff him, their flashlights continuing to explore the room.
Officers carried Lewis’ body out of the apartment after handcuffing him, searching him and telling him that he was “alright” as he continued to suffer from the gunshot wound. Just an hour later, Lewis was transported to the Grant Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.
“It’s pretty clear that some members of the Columbus Police Department have no idea what these individuals and kids go through in these underserved communities,” Elliot said, “They are not from these communities, they don’t get it…Whatever they’re doing is not working because we’ve had three shootings in Columbus Police involved shooting in the last three days. It’s not working and they need to do more.”
From August 22nd to the 30th, Donovan Lewis’ death was the first fatal, but third shooting incident involving Ohio police. One of these incidents, which occurred just four days before Lewis’ death, involved a police officer who reportedly shot a 17-year-old during a traffic stop after claiming the teen, and another unidentified male, exited the vehicle displaying a firearm.
According to Mapping Police Violence, six people have been shot by police in Ohio this year, and over 20 have been killed by Ohio police every year since 2013, 35 being the most in 2018. The site also states that Black people in Ohio are 4.9 times more likely to be killed by police in the state than white people.
In addition, a study in a Columbus Dispatch article written last year showed that Franklin County ranked “one of the highest rates of fatal law enforcement shootings in Ohio and among the highest in the nation”, and while only 20 percent of Ohio’s Black population inhabits the county, it still accounts for “33% of deaths of African Americans shot by law enforcement in the whole state”.
President Joe Biden signed the Police Reform Executive Order just short of three months ago as an attempt to build a connection of trust and safety between authorities and the public in light of George Floyd’s 2020 passing. Nevertheless, more than 100 Ohio residents gathered this past weekend to express their anger surrounding the circumstances of another police-involved death.
According to a Columbus Dispatch article, event planner Ramon Obey II said to the crowd at the protest, “We’ve given them chance, after chance, after chance, how many more chances are we going to give them? Y’all want to reform (the Columbus police)? We’ve always been reforming (the Columbus police).”
While the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducts an investigation on the fatal shooting, Officer Anderson is currently on paid leave.
Mark Collins, the attorney representing both Anderson and former Columbus police officer Adam Coy, who shot and killed Andre Hill , told ABC6, “The human eye captures things differently than a body camera. There are different angles and stuff like that. But tactically everything that was done prior is sound. Everything that was done was by his training. Sometimes they are in a situation where they have to make a split-second decision. And in this situation, Anderson believed what he saw was a gun, and so that is why he fired because he believed his life was in danger,”
“Of course, he was mistaken, that it was not a gun. But was that mistake reasonable and the Supreme Court cases and the jury instructions give deference to police officers in these types of situations because all across America everyday officers are in those situations.”
In part of Elliott asking Chief Bryant to take action in reforming Columbus police, Elliot questioned why police officers were serving the warrant after 2 a.m., “First of all, I’d like to know why in the world they’re executing warrants at 2 o’clock in the morning?” He said, “The reality is that felony warrants are executed every day in daylight hours. There was absolutely no reason for this to have been served in the middle of the night like it was.”
In addition to saying this, Elliot touches upon officers not understanding why serving a warrant in this manner in an “underserved neighborhood” is not ideal. Officers are still being prosecuted in connection with the death of Breonna Taylor, who died two years ago after police were able to obtain a “no-knock” warrant that permitted them to access Breonna’s home after midnight, when she was asleep with her boyfriend. Unaware of who was in the apartment, Breonna’s boyfriend let off the first shot and police responded, resulting in Breonna’s death, which began in a manner similar to Lewis’.
“Donovan Lewis was 20 years old at the time of his utterly, senseless death,” said Elliot, “How many more lives are gonna be lost to this type of reckless activity? How many more Black lives will be lost…before our leaders do enough to put a stop to these barbaric killings?”