A man who authorities say fatally shot a 13-year-old he claimed to have seen breaking into vehicles earlier this month in Northeast Washington surrendered to authorities Tuesday after he was charged with second-degree murder while armed, authorities said.
The charges end a period of uncertainty for Karon’s family and community leaders, who had been frustrated that charges were not immediately filed after the Jan. 7 incident. In court documents and at a news conference, authorities revealed new details of the encounter, including what they said were the last words — captured by surveillance cameras — that Karon uttered as the shots were fired.
“I am a kid.”
In a statement, Lee Smith, Lewis’s attorney, described the incident as a tragedy and asserted that Lewis “had dedicated his career to mentoring and supporting youth in the District of Columbia, which only adds to how distraught he is over the death of Karon Blake.”
“The public will see, no crime was committed here,” Smith said.
Police and prosecutors argued that Lewis broke the law, sharing new details that they said suggest he was the aggressor in the encounter with Karon.
For the first time, authorities alleged that Karon may have initially been trying to get into a vehicle to run away after Lewis shouted at him and two others, all of whom police said were tampering with or trying to break into cars on Quincy Street around 4 a.m.
Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said at a news conference that Lewis fired the first shot at that vehicle, striking it and causing its driver to crash. The chief said Karon, who did not have a weapon, then ran toward Lewis, and may not have realized Lewis was the one who had fired. Police said they are still looking for the two people who fled.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) called Karon’s death “needless” and said in a statement issued Tuesday that there are too many guns in the District. Contee, at the news conference, said investigators found discrepancies between Lewis’s initial account and evidence uncovered later by detectives. The chief asserted that Lewis did not tell detectives he had fired the first shot at the vehicle the youths were using to get away.
Contee called that omission his “biggest grievance” with the shooting. The occupants, Contee said, posed no threat, and “everything else that kind of unfolded is a result of that initial shot.”
“Any time we have a loss of life, especially that of a child, that’s just something that pierces my soul,” the police chief said. “Here we have a kid who is dead who should not be.”
Police said Lewis, who had previously been put on leave from his $75,000-a-year job at the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, surrendered to police about 8 a.m. Tuesday.
He was escorted into an initial hearing in D.C. Superior Court on Tuesday dressed in dark pants and a white shirt, his ankles shackled, his wrists cuffed to a chain around his waist. The case had raised fears of retaliation, and his court appearance was met with extra security. Eight deputy U.S. marshals fanned out around the courtroom well, and the hearing was uneventful.
Smith said prosecutors could not prove malice and argued the second-degree murder charge was not sustainable. Smith said Karon “turns and pivots to Mr. Lewis and runs in Mr. Lewis’s direction” before he was shot. He also noted his client has four children, no criminal history and long ties to the community.
But Magistrate Judge Judith Pipe said that “there’s no indication the child ever came onto his property and no indication the child was armed.” She also said there is no evidence Lewis was in legitimate fear. She described the city worker as the “first aggressor,” noting he took the first shot at the vehicle.
She also rejected Smith’s bid to release Lewis into home detention, saying the shooting “happened on the threshold of the house.”
The decision by police and prosecutors to charge Lewis comes after a tense few weeks in D.C. Police worried about people seeking revenge on someone they suspected of shooting Karon, a student at Brookland Middle School, near where the shooting occurred. At one point, the chief held a news conference to ask internet sleuths to give police space to do their work and revealed that the shooter, like Karon, is African American.
“The Blake family deserves justice, and now we are one step closer to holding Karon’s killer accountable,” said D.C. Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5), who represents the area where the shooting occurred. In a statement, Parker, who has worked closely with Karon’s family, said he continues “to have serious questions” about how the case was handled, and he urged authorities to make more information public.
Contee praised “people stepping up with real information and real evidence.” He said detectives moved swiftly but noted they had a “self-defense claim that had to be overcome.”
The chief said an “arrest can’t come too soon for family members and victims. But we wanted to make sure we did this right.”
According to a 31-page arrest warrant filed in D.C. Superior Court, Lewis told police that he retrieved his Smith & Wesson .40-caliber handgun after hearing noises, thinking someone might be trying to break into his ground-floor condo. Police have said that the gun was legally registered and that Lewis had a concealed-carry permit.
Lewis told police that he was standing in the entryway to his courtyard and that he saw three people, whom he described as “youngsters,” across the street, according to the affidavit. He told police he yelled, “Hey! What are y’all doing?” the warrant says.
The court document says Lewis told police at the scene that Karon ran “directly towards” him and that he believed he fired twice. In a subsequent interview at a police station, the document says, Lewis told detectives that Karon “bee-lined” toward him. Police said in the warrant that “there is no footage depicting the decedent coming onto Lewis’ property.”
A person who was inside Lewis’s condo told police she looked out a bedroom window and saw one person running toward the residence and two others running toward a Kia Sportage parked in an alley, according to the warrant. That person reported hearing two gunshots.
Police said that they recovered three bullet casings and that Karon had been shot multiple times. One bullet was found in the Kia Sportage, police alleged in the warrant, noting that detectives believe Lewis fired one shot at it. Authorities said the other shots were fired about three seconds later. The car, police said, had previously been reported stolen, and investigators believe the youths were using it as a getaway vehicle.
Police have said previously that Lewis called 911 after he shot Karon and was administering CPR when police arrived. Contee said Lewis’s gun permits have been revoked.
The arrest warrant says the driver’s side windows of a Kia Soul and an Audi had been shattered, and the window of a Cadillac had marks that led authorities to believe someone had tried to break it. Contee said a flashlight that the youths had apparently used to peer into car windows was found.
Photos in the warrant application show a man dressed in a T-shirt and shorts and standing in a courtyard partially behind a brick pillar, his left hand extended. Police said that video shows Lewis moving backward on his patio as he fires the final two shots and that the muzzle flashes are evident.
Emily Davies contributed to this report.