A perfect day for the elite unit of police officers who are violent criminal apprehension specialists ends with the bad guy wearing handcuffs looking at the last daylight he will see for years.
The imperfect days end with the spilling of blood.
The frigid cold morning of Jan. 7, 2014, was not perfect for officers trying to arrest convicted felon James William Lewis, who had robbed his former employer at gunpoint days earlier in Pineville, N.C. Lewis, 33, had told his girlfriend and others that he was not going back to prison for any reason.
Lewis shot one of them. Three times.
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Shane Page, a violent criminal apprehension specialist with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, was shot in the shoulder, pelvis and abdomen.
Lt. Chris Blevins of the York County Sheriff’s Office didn’t hesitate when he picked up Page and carried him to safety. Even though the shooting happened more than two years ago, Blevins, 44, who leaves his wife and kids at home every day to catch the meanest and most violent criminals there are, remembers it all like it just happened.
“We went in with the mindset that this person could potentially be dangerous,” Blevins said.
The crew of cops from South Carolina and North Carolina and federal agents had conducted surveillance on the Fort Mill home where Kristie Barratt, Lewis’ girlfriend, lived with her parents. Police had information Lewis was holed up there.
So they knocked on the door.
“It took a while for her to come to the door,” Blevins recalled, “and she says she hasn’t seen him.”
But cops are lied to every day by people who don’t want to go to jail and by those who hide those criminals. Officers asked for permission to search the house anyway, and Barratt let them in.
“We had one team on the bottom floor, another team took the top floor,” Blevins said.
Blevins put Barratt and her mother in a living room and the other team went upstairs. The cops heard noises.
“I asked her if anybody was upstairs, and she said her father,” Blevins said.
The police heard more noises from a bedroom and Blevins asked Barratt what was making the noise.
“She said she had a dog in there, a pit bull or pit bull mix,” Blevins said.
Blevins and other officers told Barratt to get the dog out of the bedroom so officers could search it. She did.
But what Barratt did not tell them was that she had seen Lewis crouching near the bedroom door with a gun in his hand. Barratt and Lewis had plotted for Lewis to hide in the eaves of the house to avoid police and try to sneak out later.
Barratt took the dog away, and Page and other officers went in to search the bedroom. In an instant, Lewis shot Page three times.
Blevins – built like an engine block, about 5 feet 8 inches tall and 220 pounds of muscle – bulled up the stairs and pulled Page to safety.
“The good Lord, you gotta have him in your corner,” Blevins said of how Page somehow survived.
Other officers returned fire, wounding Lewis in his legs.
York County deputy Greg Garrison and former deputy Jason Powell also rushed to the aid of Page.
Police and prosecutors and even a federal judge have called what happened that day at the hands of Lewis and Barratt an “ambush.”
Lewis wanted to kill a cop that day, and he almost did.
Blevins, the cop no criminal ever wants to see, said 99 percent of the people in this area still believe that law enforcement is all about the motto: “Protect and serve.”
Even most criminals won’t shoot cops.
“Almost all people have a good relationship with the police,” Blevins said. “They know what we are doing and why we do it. To protect the public.”
Barratt already has been released from prison after being sentenced to two years for her crimes of lying to police.
On Wednesday in federal court in Columbia, Lewis, who has been in and out of jail most of his adult life, will be sentenced. He faces 25 years to life.
Blevins, a husband and father, will not worry about the sentence. He will not even go to court.
“I have faith in the justice system,” Blevins said. “I don’t take it personal.”
Page, the wounded officer, left the police force after he was wounded. Blevins remained at the sheriff’s office.
“I have faith that if we act professional, follow the guidelines and training, everything will turn out good.” Blevins said.
Blevins remembers other imperfect days, too.
In September 2011, Blevins and another officer had to shoot and kill a York man who was shooting at residents and police.
Even after that day, after taking a man’s life, Blevins did not quit. He went out to help other people.
On Wednesday, he will take arrest warrants for a violent criminal and, with his seven-member team, go out and catch another bad guy. Another bad guy who just might want to shoot cops.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065