A Friend’s Gun
Donovan Lewis once told a Reynoldsburg police officer arresting him that he had gotten into an argument with his mom, Rebecca Duran, and just wanted to have a good day. Living with inconsistently medicated bipolar disorder, it was sometimes hard for the 19-year-old Black man to maintain his characteristically friendly and talkative demeanor.
Walking was one of his favorite strategies to decompress. Duran often bought him socks, since he wore them out so quickly. In the early days after his death, it hit her hard when she realized she wouldn't be buying him any more socks. She was beginning to accept that he was gone.
Lewis would often walk miles across town to get where he wanted to go, but on a sunny day in March 2021, he called a friend to pick him up. That's when the Reynoldsburg cop pulled them over. His friend ran from the officer, but Lewis stayed. He later told Duran that he didn’t want to be shot in the back. The officer searched the car and found a gun under the passenger seat where Lewis had been sitting.
The officer arrested him for the felony crime of improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle. Lewis claimed he had never seen the gun before and told them to check it for prints. The only prints belonged to his friend. The case was dismissed in Franklin County Municipal Court a week later at the request of the prosecutor.
More than a year later, an indictment was filed in Common Pleas Court against Lewis for the same crime, but the summons was mailed to an old address. When Lewis didn’t show up at the hearing on May 4, 2022, the court issued a capias warrant asking police to arrest him to make sure he showed up at the next one.
On August 10, 2022, another warrant was issued for his arrest due to a domestic dispute between Donovan and his girlfriend, Latonya Lewis. They had an admittedly rocky relationship, but they were both excited about her pregnancy.
Around 2 a.m. on August 30, 2022, two Columbus police officers knocked on Donovan’s apartment door to serve those warrants. Less than 90 minutes later he was pronounced dead at Grant Hospital after being shot by officer Ricky Anderson.
Early the same morning, Duran was suddenly awakened by a call from Latonya telling her that something was going on with the police at Donovan’s apartment. In the hours and days that followed, which have since turned into weeks and months, Duran embarked on a mother’s journey that no parent is prepared to endure.
Her son didn’t have a phone, so Duran's first instinct was to call 911 to see if they could tell her what was happening at his address. The operator said she would look into it and call her back. Ten minutes later, Duran called 911 again. The operator didn’t have any information for her.
Duran jumped in her car and called her two best friends to ask them to meet her at Lewis’ apartment. She doesn’t recall stopping at any red lights or following any speed limits in her panicked attempt to get across town.
As a white mother of six non-white children, Duran knew the risks with which they lived. She often reminded her children to stay calm around police and not give them any reasons to use excessive force. She recalled scolding one of Lewis’ brothers after she caught him playing outside with a BB gun. He thought she was overreacting. Two weeks later, Tamir Rice, who was one year younger than her son, was killed by police in Cleveland for holding the same toy.
Rebecca and her friends arrived at the police perimeter around Lewis’ apartment and began asking questions. They heard the standard reply: When we know something, we’ll tell you.
The media had arrived and were inaccurately reporting that an altercation had happened at Lewis’ apartment, presumably because that’s what the police were telling them. Duran knew they were on site because an officer suggested she move to an area where she could avoid the reporters.
What the police did not tell her was that the squad had left with her son just minutes before she arrived. He died during the ride to the hospital. The medics used every strategy they had to try to bring him back, but it was too late.
Duran and her friends stood outside the police tape in the dark night for about an hour, lit up only by flashing police lights, holding onto each other and the hope that Lewis wasn’t hurt, and the police were simply holding him inside.
The Hospital and The News
Duran called a friend who works the third shift in the Emergency Department at Grant Medical Center. They hadn’t seen Lewis. She called a friend whose husband is a police officer – maybe he could find out something. He wasn’t working that night.
As her anxiety grew and she was close to a panic attack, an officer told her that he had been taken to a hospital but wouldn’t say which one.
Her instincts told her to drive to Grant. Again, her friends went with her.
As they got out of their cars, her friends received the news of Lewis’ death on their phones. Duran’s phone rang and they begged her not to answer it.
It was her daughter calling: “Mom, it’s already on the news.”
Duran went into the hospital demanding to see her son. They showed her to a meeting room where the hospital chaplain joined them and helped her understand what was happening – including the news that she would not be allowed to see her son.
Three Days of Begging
Duran and Lewis talked every day when he was alive. As the reality of his death began to sink in, she had to see him. She wanted to hold him.
She wanted an attorney to force the hospital to allow her to be near him. Her friends spent the next couple of hours searching online and texting friends with legal connections. Three recommendations came back with the same name: Rex Elliott. They waited until 8 a.m. and called him.
Elliott and his colleagues went to work, but they couldn’t get permission for Duran to see Lewis. His body was sent to the coroner for an autopsy.
She called the coroner, who was the friend of an acquaintance, and begged to see Lewis’ body. She tried everything she could think of. “Don’t you need someone to identify the body?” she asked.
The coroner said no, his fingerprints were already in the system.
When the autopsy was over, his body was moved to the funeral home. That was the first time she and Latonya saw him.
Running on about two hours of sleep, adrenaline and coffee, Duran, other family members, and her attorney were invited to Columbus Division of Police headquarters the day after Lewis died to watch the body-worn camera footage of the officers and the police dog who came to his apartment.
Community activists were circling with demands to release the video. Even though CPD has no part in the investigation and must turn over all evidence to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), the department chose to release some of the body-worn camera footage to the public. The family was given an opportunity to see only a very short clip covering the moments when the officers opened Lewis’ bedroom door and shot him.
Duran objected and asked them to back it up. They showed her a little bit more. But she only got to see the rest of the footage when her attorney requested a copy after police released it to the media.
It was becoming obvious to Duran that she was not going to be able to rest and reflect on her loss for quite some time. Losing a child is always a shock, but losing one to a police shooting adds layers upon layers of demands that she had never imagined.
Columbus Police and Politicians
Duran still wanted answers. She felt that everyone was privy to more information than she was, and that the police were controlling the narrative to fit their needs.
“Why would they say there was an altercation when there wasn’t?” she asked.
She said she has always believed the police are “power-trippin’,” and this experience has only solidified that opinion.
The 911 operators didn't tell her anything. The officers maintaining the perimeter allowed her to wait at the scene for an hour when they knew her son was at the hospital. Someone at CPD told the media her son was dead before they informed her. The police at the hospital were too busy guarding evidence to show her compassion.
Columbus Urban League CEO Stephanie Hightower, Congresswoman Joyce Beatty and Mayor Andrew Ginther attended Donovan’s funeral and spoke to his family in a private room to express their condolences. They promised transparency and accountability.
But the person she wanted to talk with, Chief Elaine Bryant, wasn’t there.
When she saw Bryant at a community forum exactly five months later, Bryant said she didn't know whether Duran wanted to talk with her because many families don't. Duran assured her that she was one who did.
More confusing was Bryant's confession that she didn’t know how to reach her. A woman who was quoted daily in the news, who had attorneys sending out media releases, and who was showing up at protests for her son could not be located by the chief of police?
Bryant referred her to the Community Liaison officer to schedule a meeting. That connection led nowhere. Recently, Assistant Chief Lashanna Potts discussed some policy initiatives with Duran. Potts also facilitated a short phone conversation for Duran with Bryant and scheduled a meeting for early April.
The Justice System
Duran was not a stranger to the activism surrounding police-involved shootings. She had attended protests supporting families who had lost their loved ones. It was a strange moment when she realized she would now be one of those families.
She had an attorney, but he is white, and she knew that eventually she would need an attorney who had lived the experiences of the Black community. She added Richard Wright from Dayton to her legal team.
As much as Lewis will forever be her son in her heart, the legal system gives her the status of the administrator of his estate. She is not his next of kin anymore, since Lewis’ girlfriend gave birth to the couple’s child two weeks ago.
Duran is also not a party to the criminal trial that might be necessary if his killer is indicted on any charges. Ricky Anderson has retired from the CPD. The Fraternal Order of Police is raising money for Anderson’s family, which might foreshadow a need for legal fees soon.
The BCI completed its work in December and forwarded the evidence collected to the special prosecutors appointed by Franklin County Prosecutor Gary Tyack. The prosecutor's unit also told Duran that they are doing more investigation, so she will need to be patient.
She has filed a civil case against the city for wrongful death and may file a federal case for a violation of her son’s civil rights. The prosecutors have adopted a common strategy, asking the courts to wait until the criminal trial is concluded. But there is no criminal trial yet. A hearing two weeks ago disclosed that they thought there would be an indictment of Anderson in two weeks. That hasn’t yet happened. More patience.
The Civilian Police Review Board filed a complaint on behalf of Lewis, but the Inspector General must also wait until any criminal proceedings are over before conducting their investigation. That could be two to three years from now. And more patience.
Changing the System
Duran is very aware that she has a responsibility to help change the system that killed her son. She knows that this part of the journey will continue throughout the rest of her life. The problems are bigger than Lewis’ death, and she feels like she should use her white privilege to get people to pay attention. She knows her privilege comes with great responsibility. And she has no plans to walk away from this fight.
“Donovan saw things as just and unjust,” Duran said. “He loved hard, and he fought harder.”
When asked what Donovan would think about all this attention he’s getting, she said he wouldn’t even notice. "He would be apologizing to me that he was not here to help me with this fight,” she said.