D.C. Officer Dies After Being Shot on Duty
By Ruben Castaneda and Marcia Davis
Three dozen D.C. police officers gathered outside D.C. General Hospital in the brilliant sunshine yesterday morning, their collective mood in somber contrast to the crisp and glorious weather.
Some of them wore jeans and T-shirts; some were in full uniform. But all the officers were expecting the worst.
The bad news came shortly after noon, when medical personnel disconnected Officer Scott S. Lewis from a life-support system. Lewis, who had been shot in the head while on patrol early Friday, was pronounced dead within minutes, officials said. Some of the officers quietly wept and embraced. Others just stood silently as they thought about their fallen comrade.
Lewis, 28, a two-year member of the force, became the second D.C. police officer slain in the line of duty this year, the third since December 1993.
Co-workers described Lewis as a hard worker with a great sense of humor.
"He had old-school toughness. But he hated to see people down," said Officer Rick Kager. "When he saw someone down, he would pick up their spirits by making them laugh. If he hadn't made it as a cop, he could have been a comedian."
Lewis lived with his mother in Bowie, where he was a volunteer firefighter. On Saturday, Prince George's County firefighters will dedicate a new fire engine in Lewis's name, said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the department.
Funeral arrangements were not available last night.
The attack on Lewis was unprovoked, as were attacks on seven other law enforcement officers in the last 11 months, officials said. Four of the eight officers were killed.
"Obviously, we will have to review and see if we can make any sense of these attacks," said Interim Police Chief Larry D. Soulsby, who joined the officers at the hospital yesterday. "This is a death in the police family, and to have it occur in such a senseless way is tragic."
About 2:30 a.m. Friday, Lewis and his partner, Officer Keith DeVille, both assigned to the 5th District, were on patrol in a marked squad car when a male motorist pulled up beside them in the 1300 block of H Street NE and gestured to the officers that he needed help, investigators said.
Lewis, DeVille and the motorist who is deaf and mute got out of their cars, detectives said. The officers radioed for an interpreter. (It turned out that the man wanted to report that his house had been burglarized, investigators said.)
At that point, Melvin Darnell Pate, 30, pulled up in his Honda Accord. DeVille later told investigators that Pate asked Lewis whether he knew the man was deaf. DeVille told investigators that Lewis responded yes and asked Pate whether he knew what the problem was.
Pate said no, DeVille told investigators, then stopped his car, got out, walked up to Lewis, pulled out a gun and shot him in the head at point-blank range.
According to one police source, Pate then bent down and took Lewis's service weapon and began to run to his car, but DeVille fatally shot him before he could escape. Two police sources said officers found cash and crack cocaine in Pate's Honda.
The motive remains unclear, police said. Detectives thus far have found nothing to connect Pate to the deaf motorist or to suggest that Pate had ever been arrested by Lewis. But some of Pate's relatives and friends said Pate, whom they called Darnell, had been depressed because of the recent shooting death of one relative and the incarceration of another one.
Detectives were investigating a report that Pate had become agitated in a federal courtroom a few hours before the attack. Pate reportedly was in the courtroom for a hearing involving a younger brother who faces a felony drug distribution charge. Pate was upset about the recent jailing of his brother, a friend said.
Five days before Pate shot Lewis, Pate's cousin, Darrell Pate, 17, was fatally shot in the 1300 block of Trinidad Street NE. On Saturday, the Pate family buried Darrell Pate.
Darnell Pate's older brother, Anthony, was fatally shot in October 1987. And one week before the shooting of Lewis, friends said, Darnell Pate was upset after his son, who is 8 or 9 years old, was nearly hit by a stray bullet as he played in the ground floor hallway of his grandmother's apartment building.
"I know he was in a depressed state," said Russell Spencer, who has known the family for about three years. He said he saw Pate several times the week after his cousin's death. "He seemed to be sad, hurt and in a lot of pain."
"I also think he felt he had let his brother down," Spencer said.
David Pate, Darnell's uncle, said the two recent deaths had been "rough on the family," which has been touched by violence more than once before. David Pate said that one of his own brothers was killed about four years ago.
Despite their grief, however, David Pate said his family still has questions about the incident that left a police officer and his nephew dead.
"I don't believe Darnell killed that policeman," he said. "He wasn't that type of person."
Spencer and Mike Terrell, another friend of Darnell's, said they also had questions about the incident.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company