Family of Donovan Lewis, the 20-year-old Black man who was fatally shot in bed on Tuesday by a Columbus Police officer while possibly holding a vape pen, is demanding answers and justice after the latest act of police brutality in a city with an ugly history.
“He was treated like an animal,” Columbus attorney Rex Elliott, who is representing the family, said after playing the body-camera footage at a press conference on Thursday. “There was no justification—let me be clear—no justification for officer [Ricky] Anderson to shoot an unarmed man trying to get out of bed as police officers were instructing him to do.”
The Columbus Division of Police said that at around 2:28 a.m. on Tuesday, officers attempted to serve a felony warrant at a second-floor apartment on Sullivant Avenue. Body-camera footage released later that day showed that after apprehending two other people in the apartment, officers went into a back bedroom where Lewis was sleeping—and that he was shot about a second after the door was opened. Lewis had one hand raised as Officer Ricky Anderson, who had a K-9, opened fire.
After the single gunshot, the footage shows officers handcuffing a wounded Lewis and carrying him out of the apartment before rendering aid, at one point claiming he was resisting. Lewis was pronounced dead at a local hospital around 3:19 a.m, and no weapons were found in the apartment. Columbus Chief Elaine Bryant said at a press conference that “there was, like, a vape pen that was found on the bed right next to him.”
“Donovan was asleep before officers arrived and had no warning that CPD would burst into his apartment,” Elliot said.
Anderson, who has been on the force for 30 years and is in the Canine Unit, has been placed on leave pending an investigation of the shooting. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation has also opened an investigation into Lewis’ death.
As Elliot stressed that there will be justice in this “senseless death,” the lawyer was flanked by Lewis’ mother, father, siblings, and close family friends.
The lawyer, however, asked the press not to ask questions as the family is “focused on making plans to say goodbye to Donovan.” One family friend has started a GoFundMe to assist the Lewis family on funeral costs.
The lawyer also played the entire body-camera footage during the press conference, prompting many members of Lewis’ family to turn their heads and cover their ears.
“These are the faces of just a few of the many people that have had their lives altered forever because of the events of early Tuesday morning,” Elliot said, before calling on police and city leaders to enact immediate reform for these “barbaric killings.” Columbus has played host to several disturbing fatal police shootings of people of color in recent years, including the shooting death of Andre Hill, an unarmed Black man, in Dec. 2020.
“It is time to do something significantly more drastic,” the lawyer added. “We can’t lose one more kid by virtue of a police officer recklessly firing his gun.”
Two lawyers representing Anderson said in a Thursday statement to The Daily Beast that “a life was lost in this situation, and we sympathize with the family who has to endure the loss of a loved one.”
“Every day in our country, our policemen and women put on their uniforms, and are forced to make split-second decisions in response to the actions of others,” Columbus attorneys Mark Collins and Kaitlyn Stephens said. “When we analyze police-involved shootings, we must look to the totality of the circumstances and we are expressly forbidden from using 20/20 hindsight because unlike all of us, officers are not afforded the luxury of armchair reflection when they are faced with rapidly evolving, volatile encounters in dangerous situations.”
The lawyers added that they expect “the investigation will be thorough and we certainly hope the process of any future legal proceedings will be more fair than what we have seen in the recent past.” Stephens added to The Daily Beast that Anderson declined to comment further because of the pending investigation.
Court records show that officers were attempting to serve Lewis with a warrant for improperly handling a firearm, assault, and domestic violence. According to an Aug. 10 criminal complaint filed in Franklin County Municipal Court, Lewis’ girlfriend told police that she was pregnant with his child—and that the two had an argument at Westgate Park.
“Lewis shoved her off the chair she was sitting in, and she then rolled down a small hill,” the complaint obtained by WBSN states, noting that when police arrived at the scene the girlfriend said that “Lewis assaulting her is something that frequently happens.” An April 2021 complaint also shows that Lewis was charged with domestic violence after allegedly punching his mother when she didn’t let him in the house.
But on Tuesday, Lewis appeared to be fast asleep as Columbus officers knocked on an apartment door for about eight minutes and announced themselves before two men opened up. The men were immediately detained by police as a dog with the Columbus Canine Unit began to clear the apartment.
In the body-cam footage, a dog is seen barking at a back bedroom, indicating someone was still in the house and prompting officers to demand whoever it is exit the room. Ultimately, Anderson pushes open the door as another officer yells, “Hands!”
Anderson is then seen firing a single shot into the room as Lewis starts to sit up in the bed and raise his hand toward the officers. After the shooting, an officer can be heard yelling to a hunched over Lewis to “crawl out here” before eventually entering the room and handcuffing him. Officers are then seen carrying Lewis out of the apartment before later rendering medical aid.
“How many more lives are going to be lost to this type of reckless activity? How many more Black lives will be lost? How many more families like Donovan’s will need to appear in news conferences like this one before our leaders do enough to put a stop to these barbaric killings?” Elliot said.