Okla. prosecutor clears cops in death of naked suspect who attacked them
The officer-involved shooting sparked protests
EDMOND, Okla. — The two police officers involved in the fatal shooting of an unarmed, naked teenager have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing.
Sgt. Milo Box and Officer Denton Scherman were put on administrative leave with pay while the Oklahoma County district attorney reviewed the circumstances surrounding the April 29 death of Isaiah Mark Lewis, 17, of Edmond.
The death sparked a protest, a civil rights lawsuit and accusations of racism against the Edmond Police Department. “His death is yet another example of how black lives do NOT matter,” the Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson, executive director of Black Lives Matter OKC, complained in May in a statement.
In a lengthy explanation Monday of his decision, District Attorney David Prater said he did not find probable cause to charge either officer with a criminal act.
"I find that Officer Denton Scherman was acting pursuant to Oklahoma Statute when he shot Isaiah Lewis to defend himself and Sgt. Milo Box," the district attorney said. "As in all matters, if more facts are revealed that justify opening this investigation for reconsideration of charges, I will do so."
In his statement, the district attorney described Lewis as a loved and otherwise normal teenager who was acting uncharacteristically paranoid, detached from reality and violent on April 29. Prater said Lewis struck and injured both officers after breaking into an occupied house.
The district attorney said Lewis — despite being hit twice by a Taser — punched and knocked the sergeant to the floor. The district attorney said Lewis then charged Scherman, attempted to grab the officer's gun and punched the officer in the side of the face.
"Scherman reported that he saw stars and was concerned that he would be knocked unconscious if he was punched again by Lewis," the district attorney said. "As Lewis continued toward him, Scherman fired several shots at Lewis and stopped to determine if they had any effect. Lewis stopped briefly and then charged Scherman again with his head down as if he was attempting to tackle Scherman. Scherman fired again. Lewis was knocked to the ground at that point."
The district attorney said an officer is justified under the law to use deadly force if the officer perceives a threat of serious bodily harm to himself or others. The district attorney said the facts have to be considered from the perspective of the officer in the heat of the moment, "not from the perspective of any other person who may judge the facts with the benefit of knowing more than the shooting officer knew at the time."
The teenager's parents sued the city of Edmond and the two officers on May 28 in Oklahoma City federal court. Their attorneys allege the officers began to chase, yell and threaten Isaiah after spotting him, which actually increased his distress. The attorneys allege the officers then cornered him in the house, improperly tasered him, shot him without just cause, then dragged him outside where he was "treated simply as a fresh kill."
"We're not surprised by the district attorney's decision, but the family is disappointed," Chicago civil rights attorney Andrew M. Stroth said Monday evening. "From the information we have, he did not present a threat to the officers. The family is going to pursue justice through the civil litigation that is currently pending."
The district attorney noted in his statement Monday that a federal lawsuit had been filed. He said that matter will determine whether those sued have any civil liability for the death.
The district attorney notified Edmond police earlier this month that the officers could return to duty and he also already has met personally with the teenager's family.
Lewis was shot four times, according to an autopsy report.
Police began looking for Lewis after getting calls shortly after 1 p.m. April 29 about a disturbance and after being told he had "flipped out" on his girlfriend. Witnesses reported seeing him run from the scene taking his clothes off. The deadly confrontation with the two officers took place more than an hour later.
The district attorney revealed in his statement Monday that the girlfriend reported Lewis began making statements that didn't make sense after coming to her home April 29. She reported Lewis talked about the "white man's burden" and that the government was tracking and watching him.
At one point, they smoked "Wax," a substance with a high concentration of THC, the active ingredient of marijuana, according to the DA's statement. Lewis later became very upset, saying repeatedly he needed to tell his girlfriend something. He slammed a metal cross on a table and yelled, "This is what I'm talking about!" He then began accusing his girlfriend of not loving him.
The two then struggled over her phone in a bathroom after he kicked the door open, according to the statement. "Lewis began making a noise that she described as a cry someone would make like they were hurting very badly," Prater said.
The district attorney said that many of the questions about what led to the shooting death are not fully answered. He said "first-episode psychosis, schizophrenia or some other mental health issue cannot be ruled out."
The district attorney also revealed that Box, a 25-year veteran, was diagnosed after the confrontation with a concussion and neck and back injuries. The district attorney said Box was preparing to shoot Lewis himself when he was knocked to the floor and then couldn't move.
Prater said Scherman — who was undergoing field training at the time of the shooting — suffered contusions to his head and face as a result of the altercation.
Both officers were in uniform and had tried to stop Lewis with their patrol vehicle before he broke into a house, Prater said. Lewis was naked at the time of the confrontation, Prater said.
Edmond police had no immediate comment on the decision. A statement may be issued Tuesday.