The Alexandria man who abducted his 9-year-old son at gunpoint in April was drunk and increasingly belligerent during a 20-hour standoff with police, according to a report released yesterday by the commonwealth's attorney. The report cleared the two police officers who fatally shot the man.
Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel concluded that the death of Lewis W. Barber on April 27 was a justifiable homicide and not a crime.
Sengel's 10-page review of the standoff and shooting found that Barber had a blood alcohol level of .21, more than 21/2 times the legal limit for driving. The review, based on interviews with police personnel and civilian witnesses, audio recordings of telephone calls with hostage negotiators, video footage of part of the event and physical evidence, said police found empty beer cans and an empty wine bottle and wine box inside Barber's Del Ray home and a handwritten note in which Barber indicated "he thought his death was imminent."
Barber also threatened at least three times to shoot any police officers who got too close to his house, at one time communicating the warning through his son, Philip, who was wearing a flak jacket throughout the ordeal, the report concluded.
Sengel said Barber was lured from the house by police, who hoped to subdue him with "sage guns" -- nonlethal weapons. But Barber raised a loaded handgun and refused to drop it after being ordered to do so by the officers, the report said. Sgt. Jesse Harman was justified in shooting Barber because he feared for his safety and the lives of the police officers he supervised; and Officer Numa Landry was justified because Barber was heading back into his house and Landry feared for the boy's life, the report said.
In the end, the review found, Harman and Landry were "confronted by a man who refused to comply with demands to drop his weapon, who had indicated his willingness to shoot officers, and who had engaged officers in a protracted standoff."
With yesterday's report, Sengel closed one chapter of a two-part investigation into the incident. An Alexandria police spokeswoman said an internal probe is continuing into whether the officers followed the department's policies when they fired five shots at Barber. Three of the shots hit him.
The internal investigation also will determine whether the officers who responded to the scene on Wyatt Avenue operated within reason, said the spokeswoman, Amy Bertsch.
"The criminal investigation was very thorough, and we have great confidence in the commonwealth attorney's reviews and findings," Bertsch said. Harman and Landry returned to active duty yesterday after spending the past two months on administrative leave, she added.
Barber's parents, John and Francene Barber, did not return phone calls yesterday. They and Barber's friends had asked for an independent review and had raised questions about police conduct.
The review of Barber's death by Sengel and his team of prosecutors offers the most detailed version yet of what led to the emotionally charged standoff and its denouement 20 hours later. Barber, 48, antagonistic and intoxicated, refused to release his son and had shouted to one officer that he would have to "put one between his eyes" if he wasn't allowed to speak to his minister, according to Sengel's review.
Barber had waved a long-barreled Colt Navy black powder revolver, circa 1860, at officers. It was fully loaded and operational with six bullets, and another fully loaded cylinder was found inside the house near his shotgun. The shotgun was not loaded, but live rounds for it were found in Barber's pockets, Sengel's review said.
Hours before the final confrontation, Barber had abducted Philip at gunpoint from his estranged wife, Robin, outside the Rock It Grill in Alexandria, where she works. A protective order that she had filed against him was served at their house three days earlier, and Barber, who was "very agitated" and "barely under control" as his wife moved her things, was afraid of losing his son in a custody battle, according to the review.
Barber drove the boy to their house and had him call another family member to say, "My daddy has a gun and he will shoot anyone who tries to take me away from him," the review said.
About 6 a.m. April 27, Barber called a friend and asked her to pick up his son at 8 a.m. to take him to school, according to the review. But police decided it would be unsafe for the friend. Five minutes after the friend was supposed to arrive, Barber called her again. In that conversation, he referred to police as "pigs" and said, "Don't tell me I am going to have to kill a cop," Sengel wrote.
Negotiators who spoke to Barber "offered him several opportunities to release his son, and tried to convince him to surrender," but Barber said he would let him go only if his minister or babysitter picked him up. He also made repeated comments about how "he might have to shoot a police officer," according to Sengel's review.
At 4:30 p.m., two teams of officers executed a plan that had been developed earlier in the afternoon. One team would approach from the west and fire a nonlethal weapon that would stun and incapacitate Barber. The other team would rush toward him and subdue him. But Barber turned toward the second team, which included Harman and Landry, and raised his gun. He did not aim it at the officers, the report said.
Harman's shot hit Barber first, and Barber staggered back toward the house, prompting Landry's shots, the report said.
"To have allowed Barber to retreat into his home while wounded, intoxicated, probably suicidal and certainly able to rearm himself, and permit him to still be in control of his son whom he feared losing, would have been reckless by any standard," the review states.
the review said.