The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Judge orders D.C. worker who fatally shot teen released pending trial

Karon Blake (DC Police)
3 min

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Thursday ordered a city Department of Parks and Recreation worker charged with fatally shooting a 13-year-old released from jail pending trial, though he said there was not enough evidence to support the worker’s claim that he acted in self-defense.

Jason Lewis, 41, had been detained in the D.C. jail since he surrendered to authorities on Jan. 31. He pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and other counts in the Jan. 7 fatal shooting of the unarmed teenager, Karon Blake.

Authorities said previously that Lewis told investigators he saw people breaking into vehicles on Quincy Street in his Northeast Washington neighborhood, and he came outside to confront them.

His attorney, Lee Smith, argued at a hearing Thursday that Karon ran at Lewis and that Lewis fired at the teenager out of fear for his life.

“A crime was taking place in the dark of night and my client saw an individual, dressed in black, sprinting toward him,” Smith said.

After watching graphic security video that captured the shooting, Judge Anthony C. Epstein said he found little evidence to support Lewis’s claim of self-defense — agreeing with prosecutors’ assessment that Lewis instigated the encounter when he fired a first shot at the group.

After that shot, the people who authorities said had been breaking into cars scattered, and Karon was left behind. In one video, Karon, who had just been shot, can be heard saying, “I was just playing. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I was just playing, man. I’m just a kid.”

“The defendant chose to pick up a gun instead of picking up a phone and calling police,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Wojcik said. “Mr. Lewis provoked the violence. It’s not self-defense. It’s murder.”

Epstein quoted D.C. law making it unlawful for citizens to use deadly force to protect property, and said it was “more likely” that Lewis would be found guilty of murder or a lesser charge of manslaughter than acquitted based on a self-defense claim.

But Epstein said Lewis’s actions were “not that of a coldblooded, heartless killer,” and he ordered him to be put on home confinement with GPS monitoring before his trial, which is scheduled for April 2024.

Lewis, the judge noted, had no prior convictions as an adult, and the firearm that he used was registered and licensed. He said Lewis did not pose a danger to the community. He ordered the city worker not to possess any guns while awaiting trial.

Londen Blake, Karon’s mother, attended Thursday’s hearing and sat next to her attorney. When the judge alerted the courtroom that the surveillance video would be played, Blake excused herself.

After the hearing, her attorney, Brian McDaniel, issued a statement. “The family of Karon is shocked at the decision to release Mr. Lewis,” McDaniel said. “Having sat through the hearing in which the Court seemed to agree that Mr. Lewis was not acting in self-defense when he shot and killed a 13-year-old child who did not represent a threat to him, it is difficult to understand a finding that he does not represent a danger to the community.”

In opposing Lewis’s release, Wojcik argued that Lewis intentionally omitted in his account to police that he fired the first shot, after which Karon ran toward him.

“The defendant is the reason the victim ran toward him. The defendant wasn’t in any position of believing he was in danger, until he initiated the confrontation by firing,” Wojcik said.

Epstein, though, said he could not determine if Lewis intentionally misled police, or merely forgot because of the frantic events that night.

Lewis will not be returning to his Brookland home, but instead will be living with relatives in a different part of the city, according to court records.