Welfare check turns into deadly shootout with Phoenix police | Phoenix New Times


Welfare check turns into deadly shootout with Phoenix police

John Michael Lewis Jr., 43, was inside his home when shots were exchanged with officers. It's not clear how he died.
A Phoenix police officer talked with John Michael Lewis Jr. on Jan. 11 moments before Lewis is killed.
A Phoenix police officer talked with John Michael Lewis Jr. on Jan. 11 moments before Lewis is killed. Phoenix Police Department
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The Phoenix Police Department has released body camera footage from a Jan. 11 wellness check that left 43-year-old John Michael Lewis Jr. dead.

The video footage police released on Thursday is part of the agency's “critical incident briefing," which is made public after any police shooting or in-custody death. The briefings are narrated by officers and include edited compilations of body camera footage, dispatch audio and other information regarding an incident.

According to the briefing, the Jan. 11 shooting happened at a home near 33rd and Taylor streets. Police were dispatched after a neighbor of Lewis’ called 911 and said they hadn't seen him for a week and that water was coming from his house.

The video briefing showed that one of two officers at the house called out through a back door. Lewis appeared, and the officer said they were summoned over water flowing from the house. Water is seen pouring from a pipe on the exterior of the house as the officer stands at the door.

“I’m irrigating,” Lewis told officers.

“It’s more than irrigating. The house is leaking,” an officer responded. “It looks like it’s coming out from underneath the house.”

Lewis spoke again, but what he said is inaudible in the video. The officer then asked to see Lewis’ hands.

According to the briefing, Lewis “responded by pulling out a handgun and pointing it in the direction of the officers, causing both officers to back away from the doorway.”

The officer who was speaking to Lewis backed away quickly, bumping into the second officer. As both retreated for cover, four gunshots can be heard in the video. The second officer fired his weapon, according to Phoenix police spokesperson Sgt. Rob Scherer, but it's difficult to tell in the video when that happened.

According to the briefing, additional officers arrived and surrounded the home until Tactical Support Bureau officers arrived. Scherer told New Times in an email that tactical officers responded about 15 minutes after the shooting.

No more shots were fired, according to Scherer. Officers discovered Lewis dead inside the house with “at least one gunshot wound,” according to a Jan. 11 press release. Police did not say if officers shot Lewis or if he took his own life. Scherer would not answer New Times’ question about where the gunshot wound was located.

The Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner did not respond to a records request.

Phoenix police said the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has opened a criminal investigation, and police are conducting an internal investigation to determine if officers followed department policy.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating Phoenix police for nearly 30 months regarding patterns in use of force by officers, discriminatory policing and treatment of unsheltered and disabled people. Chief Michael Sullivan was brought in to lead the department in September 2022 as it dealt with the probe.

Currently, the city of Phoenix is pushing back publicly against any independent federal oversight of the agency.

Phoenix police fatal encounters in 2024

In 2023, Phoenix police officers shot and killed 12 people, an increase from 10 in 2022. So far in 2024, Phoenix police have been involved in three fatal shootings.
  • Jan. 5: Officers shot and killed Junior Reyes, 30, after Reyes fired at officers, injuring one. Police said they were attempting to arrest Reyes, who was wanted on a felony warrant.

  • Jan. 11: John Michael Lewis Jr., 43, died after a shootout with officers in what started as a welfare check. Officers spoke to Lewis through a rear door to his house before Lewis produced a handgun, according to police. Four shots were fired, and Lewis was pronounced dead at his house. New Times requested a medical examiner's report.

  • Jan. 27: Officers shot and killed Guy Vogel Jr., 42, after responding to a call that a store was robbed and guns were taken. Police found Vogel and a woman, who they believed were the suspects. The officers gave verbal commands and fired a nonlethal launcher at Vogel, who fled and then produced a handgun. Police responded by firing at and hitting him. Vogel was taken to a hospital, where he died from injuries. A briefing of the incident is expected from police on Feb. 10.
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