DA’s office now reviewing Lawrence police shooting case; details of incident remain on lockdown
photo by: Nick Krug
Story updated: June 8, 2018, 5:09 p.m.
The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office is now reviewing the investigation into the recent shooting of a man by a Lawrence police officer, though additional information about what happened is still being withheld from the public.
The outside law enforcement agency that investigated the shooting, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, announced late Friday afternoon that it has completed its investigation and delivered it to the DA’s office for review.
District Attorney Charles Branson, in a news release Friday, acknowledged receiving “the majority of the investigation” and said any remaining part of the investigation would be received as it is completed.
“Review of the investigation will begin immediately,” Branson said in the release. “There is no timeline on when the review will be completed, but a press release will be distributed when a charging decision is reached or if further information becomes available.”
Since issuing a news release the day after the shooting occurred, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office has not released more details about what its investigation learned.
In the week and a half since then, the Journal-World has requested more information about what transpired prior to the shooting, but Lt. Paul Nonnast repeatedly declined to release more while their investigation remained open.
The man who was shot, 34-year-old Akira S. “Nell” Lewis, of Lawrence, who is black, has retained an attorney, Shaye Downing, but has yet to speak publicly or release a statement about the incident or the status of his injuries.
photo by: Contributed photo
The Journal-World filed an open records request for any city traffic camera images, police dashcam video and police audio recordings that captured the stop and ensuing incident, but the city denied the newspaper’s request this week.
In her response, city attorney Toni Wheeler cited the portion of the Kansas Open Records Act that allows criminal investigation records to be kept secret if publicly releasing them would interfere with prospective law enforcement action, criminal investigation or prosecution. She also cited the portion of state law that defines all police body and vehicle camera recordings as criminal investigation records, allowing only the subject, his or her relatives or an attorney to view or listen to them if they’re not otherwise publicly released.
“All audio/video recordings and still images pertaining to this incident are part of an ongoing investigation and are criminal investigation records,” Wheeler said.
Authorities have not released Lewis’ name — the Journal-World learned it independently — or information about the two involved officers, including their names, race, gender or years on the force.
Both officers are on administrative leave. In addition to Johnson County’s investigation of the shooting incident, the Lawrence Police Department is conducting an internal investigation to determine whether those officers followed department policies and procedures.
The shooting happened about 5:10 p.m. May 29, after a Lawrence police officer assigned to a special seat-belt enforcement campaign pulled over Lewis in the 100 block of West Sixth Street. At some point, a second officer arrived at the stop.
“Once the additional officer arrived, the driver, who was uncooperative, was lawfully detained and repeatedly instructed to exit the vehicle but failed to comply,” according to the first news release from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. “The driver resisted arrest and a struggle ensued.”
photo by: Nick Krug
During the fight the officer was knocked to the ground and repeatedly struck by the driver, according to investigators. The backup officer fired a single shot that hit the driver, though what part of his body was shot has not been released.
A witness told the Journal-World he saw a male officer speaking to the driver before the driver leaped out of his car, swinging at the officer with both hands before the two tumbled to the ground right in front of the witness’s car. Within seconds the witness said he saw a female officer run up, pull something from her belt and fire a shot from a few feet away.
Lewis was taken into custody at the scene, officers rendered first aid until medics arrived, and he was taken to a hospital in stable condition, investigators have said.
Questions remaining unanswered include why Lewis was ordered out of his car after being stopped for a seat-belt violation, whether his outstanding warrants were a factor and how the encounter with police escalated into violence. Also unanswered is whether a knife — which Lawrence police have said was located at the scene — or any other weapons were involved in the incident.
Lewis, who has six children, is originally from Mississippi but has lived in Lawrence for years, according to sources close to him and court records. He has worked at area businesses including General Dynamics Information Technology, the Jet.com distribution center in Edgerton and Laird Noller Automotive.
Lewis has a history of driving with a suspended license, and at the time of the shooting had two outstanding bench warrants from traffic cases in Douglas County and Johnson County district courts.
He was ticketed for driving with no license in 2010, 2016 and again in 2017, along with speeding and driving without registration or insurance in Douglas County, according to court records. In the 2017 case, a judge ordered a bench warrant in January of this year, after Lewis failed to appear in court.
He was also ticketed for driving while suspended in 2016 and twice in 2017 in Johnson County, along with speeding and registration and insurance violations, according to court records there. In the latest case, Lewis failed to appear in court and a bench warrant was issued in November of 2017.
It’s not clear from those court records why Lewis’ license was suspended in the first place.
Lewis has one felony conviction in Douglas County.
He was charged with aggravated battery for allegedly hitting a man with a baseball bat in January 2016. The incident occurred as his apartment building was being evacuated for a fire, and Lewis believed the man he hit was somehow responsible for starting the fire, police told the Journal-World at the time.
Lewis pleaded no contest and was sentenced to probation, with orders to complete anger management and a cognitive thinking program, according to court records. His probation expired in August 2017.