Militant Journalism

Dayton, Ohio, man dies following violent police encounter: ‘I can’t breathe’

On June 15, demonstrators gathered at Courthouse Square in Dayton, Ohio, to demand justice in the wake of the tragic death of Antonio Lewis, a Black man from Dayton who died June 9 after falling unconscious during a violent encounter with the Dayton Police.

The incident unfolded on June 7 when Dayton Police Officers Chelsea Weitz and Dylan Lehotay responded to a report of a single-vehicle accident near Gillespie Park in Dayton. Upon arrival, the officers found Lewis, the owner of the crashed SUV, asking for help while walking nearby with a visible injury to his arm and leg.  

Rather than treat Lewis as a person in need, the officers treated him as a suspect and ultimately resorted to violence. Lehotay immediately patted him down and took his ID upon approaching him. 

Lewis initially complied with the officers’ instructions. However, as the officers issued harsh orders and continued to treat him as a suspect, Lewis appeared to grow panicked. He started backing away from Weitz and Lehotay, only to be cornered against a police car. Despite Lewis crying out and pleading for them to stop, the officers forcefully grabbed at him and attempted to handcuff him. They tackled Lewis, disregarding his pleas for help and his repeated cries of “I can’t breathe,” as they pinned him face-first to the ground in their efforts to restrain him. Police bodycam footage indicates that the officers handcuffed Lewis after he lost consciousness.

Lewis remained unconscious for the remainder of the incident, except for a few short moments when he was dragged towards the police car. Shockingly, the officers kept his unconscious body handcuffed for a total of seven minutes and 45 seconds. Only when a medic arrived on the scene and cautioned that Lewis was in imminent risk of cardiac arrest did they finally remove the handcuffs.

Two days later, Antonio Lewis died in the hospital.

No accountability

Despite the violent behavior of the police and the death of Antonio Lewis, neither of the officers involved have faced any accountability.  

Rather than immediate action to discipline or arrest these officers, the Dayton Police Department has elected to handle the matter through a routine, internal use-of-force investigation. Dayton Chief of Police Kamran Afzal stated in a press conference that there will be no external investigation, pending possible changes when the results of the autopsy are made available. These results are expected within four to six weeks. Kyle Thomas, the president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, stated in an interview with Dayton 24/7 Now that he felt that an outside investigation did not seem necessary. 

Afzal claimed that the officers on the scene followed their training by rolling Lewis into a recovery position after realizing he was unconscious, ignoring that he fell unconscious only after being pinned to the ground, and that officers left him restrained in handcuffs despite his being unconscious. 

Both Weitz and Lehotay are still on the force and have not been placed on leave. 

Community reaction

Following Lewis’ death, members of the Dayton community have made a push for transparency and accountability for the officers involved. Donald Domineck, Chair of the Dayton New Black Panther Party, remarked, “I watched the video about three times and my thoughts were it was incomplete, so there wasn’t enough video to actually make a decision of what happened, and that’s what I’m hearing from other members in the community.” (Dayton 24/7 Now)

Domineck added that the violence and the cries of “I can’t breath” from Lewis evoked memories of George Floyd and Eric Garner, two men suffocated to death by police officers. 

Attorney Michael Wright, the legal representation for the Lewis family, stated, “This should have been and could have been handled differently instead of treating him like a suspect.” 

At the June 15 rally, organizers spoke about the danger that police officers pose to the public and the need for police abolition. Protesters emphasized the importance of solidarity across racial lines for those resisting police and capitalist oppression. 

During an open-mic section of the rally, several attendees shared their own experiences with police brutality. One community member recounted a brutal beating from Dayton Police Officers that left him unconscious. He explained that the severity of the beating left him unable to recall anything after the attack until he woke up in the hospital.

Feature photo: Dayton Police Department headquarters. Liberation photo

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