Commonwealth Attorney S. Randolph Sengel's two-month investigation into the April 27 homicide of Lewis Barber did not satisfy Lewis Barber's family and friends, who say that authorities are engaged in a cover-up — offering excuses for two Alexandria police officers that killed a man who was trying to surrender.
Barber kidnapped his son at gunpoint after his second wife initiated a custody battle over the boy, and a police standoff engulfed his Del Ray house on Wyatt Avenue. After 20 hours of refusing to cooperate, Barber emerged on the front porch with an 1860s revolver.
Sengel's report detailed the police plan to stun Barber, knocking him unconscious to end the situation peacefully. But the officer charged to use the non-lethal weapon could not aim the instrument in time.
Barber moved suddenly — simultaneously raising both of his hands, one of which had the revolver — and officers reacted to the movement. The plan to resolve the situation peacefully was abandoned, and Sergeant Jesse Harman fired a fatal shot at Barber.
"Knowing that Barber had a weapon in his hand, and realizing that he could not see what Barber was doing with it only served to heighten Harman's apprehension after Barber turned and faced Harman," wrote Sengel. "Even if Harman could have seen Barber raise the weapon upward in such a manner that it was not pointed at the officers, Harman still would have been within his right to fire."
After being shot, Barber dropped his weapon and began walking up the steps of his house. Officer Numa Landry fired two more shots at Barber, striking him in the right side of his abdomen. Barber collapsed and died soon afterward.
"Landry indicated that he was preparing to fire when Harman fired first," wrote Sengel. "He stated that because he was able to see the gun Barber had was not yet cocked and was pointed upward, he hesitated, but certainly would have fired if Barber had begun to lower the weapon."
SENGEL'S ANALYSIS that Barber's death was a justifiable homicide was based on a conclusion that Barber's actions on April 27 were reasonably perceived by police officers as a threat to himself and others. But Barber's family and friends doubt that it was reasonable to perceive the events of that day as a grave threat.
Carlton Barber, one of Lewis Barber's sons from his first marriage, was not satisfied with Sengel's report. In several e-mail messages from Japan, where he is currently deployed with the United States Marines, Barber questioned the veracity of Sengel's report, and the need to kill his father.
"I think there's a cover-up, the Alexandria Police Department realized they screwed up and they're covering their tracks," he wrote. "Honestly, if I were in Iraq and in the same situation with an Iraqi with a weapon pointed in the air, I would get court-martialed for killing him, and yet these cops can do practically whatever they want."
Barber's experience with military tactics cause him to question why fatal force was used.
"I've done non-lethal weapons training, I've been sprayed with OC spray, and I've shot non-lethal munitions," wrote Barber. "The situation could've been easily ended with one beanbag round."
Ultimately, Barber feels that the Alexandria police officers who killed his father were not justified in their actions.
"I understand the 'better him dead than me' mindset, but this wasn't that sort of situation," Barber wrote. "I know my dad didn't want to shoot anybody, and he wouldn't have."
Tom Bijak, one of Lewis Barber's friend, is also displeased with the report. He has created a Web site — justiceforlew.org — to chronicle the ongoing reaction to Barber's death.
"After reading the report, I'm more convinced than ever that an independent investigation is warranted in this shooting death of Lewis Barber," said Bijak. "Lew was very intoxicated at that time, which would contribute to his uneven raising of his hands to a surrender position. Intoxicated or not, an expert firearmsman doesn't raise his gun over his head before he intends to shoot at someone."
For Bijak and others who have posted anonymously on his Web site, the idea that Barber might have harmed anyone belies his personality. And the fact that he was offering solutions that were rejected is an indication that the police did not handle the situation properly.
"Lew was calling his sitter to release his son. Lew was calling his pastor to help him peacefully resolve the situation. Lew never once harmed or threatened harm to his son Philip before or during this incident. Lew was calling people to come help from his cell phone," Bijak said. "Someone decided to accelerate the standoff to closure against the advice of the negotiating team. Who did this and why?"
Bijack feels that the improper preparation contributed to Barber's death.
"The police plan was poorly prepared and more poorly executed," he said. "The plan obviously was poor given it put the officer in charge of using non-lethal methods in a position where he couldn't use them. Why couldn't they wait a few more hours?"
MARK EVITTS, who knew Barber since 1987, was also unsatisfied with the commonwealth attorney's report.
"It's going to take a real investigation to find out what happened," he said. "I think that there could have been another outcome to this."
For Evitts, the report is evidence that Barber was trying to relinquish control of the situation when he was killed by Alexandria police.
"He raised his arms above his shoulder," he said. "That doesn't sound like someone who is threatening to me."
Nevertheless, Evitts thinks that Barber prompted the situation by holding his son hostage and initiating the standoff with police, ultimately confronting police officers with an armed weapon.
"Lew basically committed suicide by cop," he said. "It's sad because he was a basically a non-violent person. You just have to wonder if things could have happened differently."