Family of man killed by police hopes for more mental health awareness

Published: Jan. 2, 2017 at 5:41 PM CST
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Springfield police say the man killed by officers early Sunday morning in Silver Springs Park was James E. Lewis, 44, of Springfield. Police say he had a gun and was threatening to kill his wife before he displayed that gun to officers, who fatally shot him.

Lewis' family wants his death to bring more awareness about mental illness. They say they wish they had been there to calm him down, as they've dealt with his mental illness for years. Though nothing can change the outcome, they want to stress the importance of mental health training to help others.

Lewis' family spent part of Monday looking through pictures that brought back memories. They remember the good times.

"He's getting baptized right there," said Tyrone Lewis, James' brother.

"A great, fun person. He loved everybody, gave a lot of hugs," said James' mother, Jeannie Harper.

"He was always saying, 'Yes ma'am,' 'No ma'am,' 'Thank you,' pulling out chairs, opening up doors, those type of things, and then, in situations where it was called for, if it was a group of guys, he was going to be in charge," said Tyrone.

James' mother and siblings say he also had his struggles, including a criminal background and mental illness.

"I've seen so many times where we only can get the negative aspect of a situation such as this, but, for my brother's sake, I would like for it to be a positive, something that we all can learn from. This could be the beginning of opening up conversation," said Ann Lewis, James' sister.

Ann too lives with mental illness and serves as an advocate.

"Am I suffering with mental illness right now? No, because I'm in recovery. I'm taking my medication. I'm receiving the help that I get," Ann said.

Their mother is a mental health nurse.

"We need to raise awareness so that other people can be helped," said Harper.

They say James was the one who called 9-1-1 at 3:20 a.m. Sunday, and they believe it was his call for help.

"The fact that he was miles away from his wife, he was secluded in a park, tells me my brother was not homicidal; he was simply asking for help," Ann said.

Police say they attempted to speak with him, then deployed less-lethal weapons (like bean bags) before shooting James when he displayed a gun.

"There has been so many times where he has had a triggering event, and I see he's barking, barking, barking. Leave him alone, calm him down, and he's okay," said Tyrone.

Though they don't know all the details and can't change the outcome, they hope James' death will somehow help others.

"He was well loved and well known, and if something good can come out of this as far as more awareness of mental illness, that would be great," said Harper.

We have not yet been able to talk with Springfield police about how much training officers receive on dealing with mental illness. Police continue to investigate and say multiple officers remain on routine administrative leave.