Police in Columbus, Ohio, have released body camera video that shows a police officer serving a felony warrant fatally shooting an unarmed Black man in bed.
Donovan Lewis, 20, died Tuesday after being shot by Police Officer Ricky Anderson, a 30-year veteran with the Columbus Division of Police assigned to the K9 unit, according to a police statement.
There was no justification for the officer to shoot, Rex Elliott, an attorney for Lewis’ family, said at a news conference Thursday morning.
“Donovan was unarmed, and he was abiding by police commands to come out of his room when he was shot in cold blood by Officer Anderson,” Elliott said, flanked by Lewis’ parents, siblings, grandmother, aunt and family friends. They were “just a few of the many people that have had their lives altered forever because of the events of early Tuesday morning.”
The shooting is under investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and Anderson is on leave, Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant said Tuesday at a news conference.
The case follows a spate of deadly, controversial police encounters with Black Americans that have sparked protests nationwide, including in Columbus, where a series of killings by law enforcement have happened since 2020. The US Department of Justice has agreed to review the city’s Division of Police.
The shooting of Lewis happened around 2 a.m. Tuesday at an apartment building where uniformed officers were serving a felony warrant for domestic violence and assault and improper handling of a firearm, Bryant said. A news release by police indicated the man who was shot, later identified as Lewis, as the person sought in the felony warrant.
“The officers knocked on the door for several minutes … acknowledging themselves as Columbus Police officers,” Bryant said.
Police body camera video shows them knocking and calling out to occupants repeatedly for more than eight minutes. They call for “Donovan” by name several times.
Eventually, a man came to the door and was detained by police, Bryant said. He told officers he’d been asleep, and they took a knife from his pocket. A second man inside the apartment was detained about a minute later.
Officers asked if anyone else was inside the apartment, Bryant said, but were unable to determine that, and Anderson and a K9 were then called in by Columbus Police to see if anyone else was inside.
“Once the K9 officer arrived on the scene, additional announcements were made for anyone else inside to come out or the K9 was going to be released inside of the apartment,” Bryant said.
In the body camera video, the K9 is seen barking outside a back bedroom door, then officers enter the apartment and warn they are going to send a dog in.
An officer is seen opening the bedroom door, where a man is seen on a bed.
Bodycam video shows Anderson firing a single shot at a man, later identified as Lewis, moments after opening the bedroom door.
During the news conference, Bryant showed the body camera video frame-by-frame, asserting that the moment Anderson opened fire, it appeared Lewis was holding “something” in his hand.
Once Lewis was handcuffed, video shows, officers began rendering aid. Lewis was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:19 a.m., according to the Columbus Police statement.
Lewis’ death follows a string of other police shootings
Attorneys for the officer expressed sympathy for Lewis’ family in a statement Thursday but said police officers “are forced to make split-second decisions in response to the actions of others.”
“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 statement by attorneys Mark Collins and Kaitlin Stephens said. “Because of this, the law allows a reasonable officer to be mistaken, just as the law allows us as non-police officers to be mistaken.”
“We are sure the investigation will be thorough,” they said, “and we certainly hope the process of any future legal proceedings will be more fair than what we have seen in the recent past.”
Bryant, the police chief, said Tuesday officers are “put in compromising, potentially life-threatening situations” every day, “in which we are required to make split-second decisions.”
“As the chief, it is my job to hold my officers accountable, but it’s also my job to offer them support and make sure that I give that to them through the process,” Bryant said. “If they do the right things for the right reasons, we will support them. If they do something wrong, they will be held accountable.”
But Elliott, the family’s attorney, called Lewis’ death “utterly senseless,” saying “excessive deadly force was recklessly used by officer Anderson when he shot and killed an unarmed Black man.”
“How many more lives are going to be lost to this type of reckless activity? How many more young Black lives will be lost? How many more families like Donovan’s will need to appear in news conferences like this one,” Elliott asked Thursday, “before our leaders do enough to put a stop to these barbaric killings?”
Prior incidents in Columbus that have spurred scrutiny of law enforcement include:
• A Franklin County Sheriff’s Office deputy fatally shot Casey Goodson Jr. in December 2020 as the 23-year-old tried to enter his home with a Subway sandwich. The deputy was working for the US Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force looking for violent offenders at the time, police said, but Goodson, who was legally armed at the time, was not the person being sought. A grand jury indicted the deputy on two counts of murder and one count of reckless homicide.
• Later that month, a Columbus police officer fatally shot Andre Hill as he walked toward the officer while holding an illuminated cell phone in his left hand, body camera footage showed. The officer in that case was fired and charged with murder, and the city council later voted to approve a $10 million settlement to Hill’s family, the largest in the city’s history.
• Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, was killed in another shooting last April when Columbus police responded to her foster home, where Ma’Khia had been arguing with another young woman over a messy home and unmade bed. Police body camera video showed Ma’Khia lunge at the other woman with a knife, and a grand jury later declined to indict the officer who fired the fatal shot.
Lewis’ family has appreciated the community’s support so far, Elliott said, and asked that any gatherings or protests remain “peaceful and supportive and constructive.”
“Reality is, if we don’t gather, and we don’t indicate how upsetting this is to all of us, we’re never going to see change,” the attorney said.