On a cold January morning almost a year ago, police officers surrounded a house outside Fort Mill in a neighborhood where cops are almost never seen. The only flashing lights are on school buses.
The officers – local cops and state and federal agents – were part of a violent criminal apprehension team. The warrants they serve do not get grouped into black and white fugitives. They arrest people who are alleged to have used guns to rob, maim, terrify.
The guy they were looking for, James William Lewis, 32, had robbed a fast-food restaurant clerk at gunpoint in Pineville, N.C., on Dec. 12, 2013.
Shane Page from Charlotte was among the officers. Lt. Chris Blevins and deputies Greg Garrison and Jason Powell, local cops with the York County Sheriff’s Office, were right there among the group. All had families at home.
Page would leave in an ambulance. Blood ran from his guts and neck. Blevins and Garrison and Powell would provide cover fire, then carry Page outside.
Prosecutors say Page was shot, in part, because Kirstie Barratt, 22, lied when she told an FBI agent that Lewis – her ex-con and wanted felon boyfriend – was not hiding in a bedroom.
Lewis has spent stretches in prison for drug offenses and stealing cars. He was homeless for a couple of years, he has claimed in court, and his lawyer now claims Lewis had been in and out of mental hospitals for 10 years – and might have been insane when he shot Page.
What happened Jan. 7 – Lewis shot Page twice, and Lewis was shot as officers returned fire, according to court testimony and documents – is what being a police officer is sometimes about and what America is pointing at in other places, but not in Fort Mill.
“That day could have been a complete disaster,” York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant said. “Officers could have been killed.”
On Monday, prosecutors will ask a federal judge to drop the hammer on Barratt, who led police into the ambush that thankfully didn’t result in a cop’s funeral and children without a father.
Page is white. Lewis is black. Barratt, born in England and facing deportation for her felony, is white.
People of all colors breathed a sigh of relief that nobody died.
Not a single word in any federal court document in the case mentions race. The only race that mattered that day was the race that other cops and paramedics ran to get Page to an ambulance and then to a hospital. And the race they ran to get the man accused of shooting their colleague there, too.
How we look at the Fort Mill case should not change the way we look at the awful shooting and strangling of black suspects by police in cases in suburban Ferguson, Mo., and big-city New York, and Charlotte and tiny Eutawville. It should not affect the concern so many people who are black and brown have about police treatment.
What the Fort Mill case does show is that every case is unique. Not all shootings of black defendants by white cops are the fault of the cops, as this case certainly shows.
On Monday, Barratt, in jail since her arrest, is scheduled to be sentenced after pleading guilty in October to lying to police. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacey Haynes will ask Senior U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Anderson for a longer sentence than normal because Barratt knew Lewis was armed and waiting for the cops.
Lewis will not appear in court Monday. He was there in October when his girlfriend pleaded. He was in a wheelchair and enough shackles to secure an Army base.
He, too, has been in jail since his arrest. He has previous convictions for dealing cocaine and stealing cars. He pleaded guilty in May in federal court in Charlotte to the Pineville restaurant robbery. He told the federal magistrate that day that he was clear-headed enough to plead guilty. His lawyer agreed.
Now, though, the lawyer representing Lewis in the Fort Mill case contends in court documents that Lewis might have been “insane at the time of the alleged offenses.” Assistant federal public defender Katherine Evatt maintains that Lewis now might not be able to understand the charges against him, despite being fine in May. He is currently undergoing mental testing, ordered by a federal judge.
Lewis faces up to 32 years in federal prison if convicted on all charges involved in the shooting of Page. He also faces state charges in York County, including attempted murder, in connection with Page’s shooting. Those cases are on hold to see what happens in the federal system, but convictions in York County could carry up to life in state prison.
If Lewis is found mentally incompetent or insane, he will go to an institution for treatment, not to prison.