© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Donovan Lewis' family sues City of Columbus, police chief alleging systemic racism

Donovan Lewis's family and their lawyers speak to reporters after retired Columbus Police K-9 Officer Ricky Anderson was indicted for shooting and killing Lewis. (From left: Lewis' mother Rebecca Duran, Lewis's brother Tariq Stewart, Attorney Rex Elliott and Attorney Michael Wright)
George Shillcock

The family of Donovan Lewis on Thursday filed another lawsuit in connection with his shooting death by a Columbus police officer in August 2022.

The lawsuit names the city of Columbus and Columbus Division of Police Chief Elaine Bryant as defendants. The lawsuit outlines several steps the family wants the city to take in order to seek accountability and fair compensation.

It also encourage reforms the family says are needed to prevent other deaths and injuries in the future caused by CPD.

The suit was filed in federal court claiming the Columbus Division of Police has a culture of excessive force, particularly against people of color, spanning decades.

Lewis, 20, was shot and killed by former Columbus police officer Ricky Anderson in August 2022 during an early morning raid while he was laying in bed holding a vape pen. Anderson was charged with murder and reckless homicide a year later. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Attorney Rex Elliott said if it weren't for CPD having a culture of targeting minority residents and having a high percentage of excessive force used on minority residents, Donovan Lewis would still be alive.

"Donovan's family supports effective and balanced law enforcement. What we don't support is law enforcement that disproportionately impacts minority residents. Law enforcement in the city of Columbus needs to target crime, not color. We are seeking in this lawsuit to effect the change," Elliott said.

This is not the first legal action taken by Lewis' family. In Feb. 2023, the family sued Anderson and four other officers who were present when Lewis was shot.

The latest lawsuit criticizes the creation of CPD's Zone 3, which was created to patrol the neighborhoods of Franklinton and the Hilltop. The lawsuit said Black people have been overpoliced in Columbus for decades, and claimed CPD deployed "aggressive, street-style policing tactics in areas with high concentrations of Black residents."

Elliott said Columbus police kill four times the number of people than in Cincinnati and Cleveland, and 75% of these deaths were Black residents who make up 29% of the city's population.

The lawsuit wants Columbus to:

  • Publish data on all stops and arrests by Columbus officers, including demographic information
  • Require the city to make funds for civil settlements come from the officer pension fund instead of other city funds.
  • Require officers who retire in bad standing or those under investigation to forfeit their pension and other benefits.
  • Make a "city-funded, operationally independent, professionally staffed, public-facing entity empowered to participate fully in criminal and administrative investigations involving officer-involved shootings."
  • Create a set timeline for Columbus to provide public updates when police shootings happen.
  • Change police protocol for how family visitation of victims of police shootings is handled.

Elliott said the family hopes the lawsuit will force the city to take these steps that he said Columbus needs to give the city a police department that can protect all the citizens of Columbus equally.

The Cooper Elliott law firm is teaming up with the Wright & Schulte law firm on the case.

Attorney Mike Wright called CPD's actions "shameful." "There is an absolute lack of leadership and lack of accountability that basically is allowing these killings and these of these in this overpolicing, in this police misconduct to occur," Wright said.

The attorneys were joined by family and friends of Donovan Lewis and other family members of Black men shot and killed by police.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther's office declined to comment on the lawsuit. Columbus police did not respond to a request for comment regarding the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for The Columbus City Attorney's Office also declined to comment, saying the office has not yet been served the lawsuit.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.