Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft on Tuesday gave his department’s fullest account to date on the shooting of a man fleeing police, but he said a video of the incident will not be released, despite pleas from some residents.
The Sept. 12 shooting of 23-year-old Tevin Lewis, who survived, prompted protests at the police department with signs reading “back turned don’t shoot” and “weed out bully cops” and demands from the local chapter of the NAACP to release the video.
In a report to the City-Parish Council on Tuesday and in comments afterwards, Craft defended the officer’s decision to shoot, saying Lewis had armed himself while fleeing.
“Once you put the weapon in your hand, you become a threat,” the police chief said.
Craft said the officer, who has not been named and who remains on paid leave, was with a group of other officers responding about 6 p.m. to a tip that a man wanted on several warrants was at a residence on Sonny Street.
Officers arrived to find six people standing in the driveway and on the street, Craft said, and all but Lewis complied with demands to stand still and keep their hands in plain view.
The chief said Lewis began running, and during the chase, the officer saw a pistol in his right hand and then fired twice at Lewis from the rear, striking him once in the upper left shoulder.
“Multiple commands were given to that suspect to drop his weapon, and he did not comply,” Craft said.
Craft said it was appropriate for the officer to fire even if Lewis was running because he had armed himself.
“At that point, he is a threat to the officer and a threat to the people in the neighborhood,” Craft said. “ (The officer) can’t wait to see what that guy is going to do.”
The chief also shed light on one odd aspect of the story: There were early reports the gun was tied to Lewis’ hand, but Craft said it was actually on a long string around his neck.
A private security system captured at least a portion of the chase, and police obtained a warrant to secure the video and the equipment used to record it.
Council Chairman Kenneth Boudreaux commented that some police departments release such videos to show there is “nothing to hide.”
“Why does it happen in some places and in others it does not?” Boudreaux asked.
Craft and District Attorney Keith Stutes said they have no plans to make the video public while the investigation is pending.
Lewis has since been treated and discharged from the hospital.
He was booked a few days after the incident on counts of flight from an officer, felon in possession of a firearm and illegal carrying of a concealed weapon.
The counts against Lewis and a review of the officer’s actions will both be brought before a grand jury, Craft said.
Stutes said he just received the police reports and has not set a date for the grand jury.
Craft said the officer will likely remain on paid leave until the grand jury reviews the case, which is routine in officer-involved shootings.
The police department’s officer-involved shooting team investigated the case, with oversight from the FBI and State Police, Craft said.
Council members did not discuss the details of Craft’s report.
Lafayette NAACP chapter President Marja Broussard, who has been vocal in demands for the release of the video, could not be reached late Tuesday for comment.