This case represents why law enforcement is THE hardest job in America.
When viewed in a light most favorable to the state, the evidence was sufficient to prove that Mr. Lewis knowingly caused serious physical harm to Deputy Dep. Barth when he bit him in the neck while Dep. Barth was placing him in the back of his patrol vehicle.
State v. Lewis
2022 – Ohio – 4421
Sixth District Appellate Court
December 9, 2022
On the afternoon of July 28, 2021, officers were dispatched to Central Avenue near Murd Road—a two-lane stretch of highway located just west of Sylvania Township—with reports that a Penske box truck had become disabled and was blocking the eastbound lane of travel. Deputy Sheriff Craig Barth, of the Lucas County Sheriff’s Department, arrived at the scene to find that the driver (later identified as Mr. Jon Robert Lewis) was not there. Dep. Barth asked for Sylvania Township police to help locate Mr. Lewis.
The incident occurred here Central Avenue near Murd Road in Sylvania Township, Ohio.
Before Sylvania Township could find him, Mr. Lewis returned to the truck. Dep. Barth asked Mr. Lewis what was wrong with the truck, asked if he had called a tow truck, and asked him for his driver’s license. Instead of answering Dep. Barth’s questions or presenting his identification, Mr. Lewis told him that he was a “child of God.” He went about collecting his personal items from the truck, disregarding Deputy Dep. Barth’s instructions. Mr. Lewis crossed the highway away from the deputy and started walking toward a nearby church.
Dep. Barth called for Mr. Lewis to come over to him, but Mr. Lewis walked further way. Dep. Barth jogged over to Mr. Lewis and again asked for identification, at which time Mr. Lewis turned toward Dep. Barth and started shouting, pounding his chest, and pointing his finger in Deputy Dep. Barth’s face. Mr. Lewis yelled that he was a child of God and repeatedly inquired of Dep. Barth and Officer Kurtis Myers, of the Sylvania Township Police Department, whether they had taken “conscious” or “subconscious” oaths. Mr. Lewis gestured towards Dep. Barth and Dep. Barth tried several times to grab his hand.
Mr. Lewis continued to shout and pound his chest, still ignoring requests that he produce identification. He kept walking away from the officers and threw his elbow and forearm out as if to warn them against approaching him. At this point, Dep. Barth grabbed around Mr. Lewis’s shoulder, spun him towards him, and took him to the ground with the assistance of Officer Myers and two Toledo Metropark Park Rangers—Genzman and Freh—who were also on the scene to assist. Despite Mr. Lewis’s resistance, the officers ultimately handcuffed Mr. Lewis and retrieved his wallet from his back pocket.
Rangers Genzman, Freh, and Myers all tried to calm Mr. Lewis down while Dep. Barth ran his driver’s license. Dep. Barth received word back that Mr. Lewis had possible warrants from Bucyrus and Winchester. He asked dispatch to verify. While waiting for verification on the warrants, Dep. Barth told Mr. Lewis that they were going to take him out of the heat and into the air-conditioned patrol car. The officers put Mr. Lewis’s slides back on his feet and helped him up from the ground.
For a few moments, it seemed like Mr. Lewis had calmed down and was going to cooperate with Dep. Barth’s plan. Dep. Barth told Mr. Lewis that if he had just cooperated in the first place, it would not have gotten to the point of Dep. Barth placing him under arrest. Once they got to the side of the patrol car, Mr. Lewis said he wanted to sit in the grass. Dep. Barth told him he was going to sit in the car. As Dep. Barth tried to place Mr. Lewis in the vehicle, a scuffle ensued and Mr. Lewis bit Dep. Barth’s neck, drawing blood. Dep. Barth called for medical treatment. EMS responded, treated him at the scene, then transported him to the Mercy Emergency Center in Sylvania Township. His wound was treated and bandaged, a tetanus shot was administered, and he was prescribed an oral antibiotic and ointment. Dep. Barth still has a scar from the bite.
Mr. Lewis was indicted on one count of felonious assault of a peace officer, a violation of O.R.C. §2903.11(A)(1) and (D), a first-degree felony. The matter was tried to a jury, at which time the preceding evidence was presented. Mr. Lewis insisted on representing himself in the trial court. However, he did accept assistance from stand-by counsel. He repeatedly declined to wear civilian clothes and appeared for trial in his prison garb. Mr. Lewis cross-examined witnesses and testified in his own defense. He requested and was permitted a jury instruction on self-defense.
The jury found Mr. Lewis guilty. The trial court sentenced him to a minimum stated prison term of five years to a maximum term of seven and one-half years. Mr. Lewis appealed.
Mr. Lewis argues that he did not act “knowingly” when he assaulted Dep. Barth; rather, he claims, he “acted upon his self-defense instincts.” He maintains that Dep. Barth did not advise him that he was being placed under arrest, and, in fact, at the time Dep. Barth purported to arrest him, he had not committed an arrestable offense. Mr. Lewis insists that he was only trying to defend himself against excessive force used against him in the course of an unlawful arrest. He emphasizes that he committed the assault while handcuffed and accuses Dep. Barth of “clotheslining” him.
Mr. Lewis does not argue that he did not cause serious physical harm to Deputy Dep. Barth or that Deputy Dep. Barth is not “a peace officer” for purposes of O.R.C. §2903.11(D)(1)(b). He argues only that he did not act “knowingly.” He claims that biting Dep. Barth was a “self-defense instinct.”
“A person acts knowingly, regardless of purpose, when the person is aware that the person’s conduct will probably cause a certain result or will probably be of a certain nature”. O.R.C. §2901.22(B)
Here, the state presented testimony that when Dep. Barth attempted to place Mr. Lewis in the back seat of the patrol car, Mr. Lewis “latched onto [his] neck with his mouth” and did not let go until the other officers pulled him off of Dep. Barth. This did not occur while Dep. Barth forced Mr. Lewis onto the ground to handcuff him; it happened while Dep. Barth placing Mr. Lewis in the patrol car. Given the nature of the conduct itself and the location of the bite, it cannot reasonably be claimed that this conduct was inadvertent or unintentional.
When viewed in a light most favorable to the state, the evidence was sufficient to prove that Mr. Lewis knowingly caused serious physical harm to Dep. Barth, a peace officer.
In his second assignment of error, Mr. Lewis argues that the state failed to meet its burden of proving that he committed felonious assault and that he did not act in self- defense. He claims that he was in handcuffs and was entitled to use self-defense to protect himself “from Dep. Dep. Barth’s unlawful arrest and his overly aggressive and excessive behavior in clotheslining Appellant to the ground.”
As an initial matter, the bodycam footage, which was admitted into evidence, makes several things clear. First, Mr. Lewis repeatedly failed to heed Deputy Dep. Barth’s commands. He ignored requests that he produce his identification, refused to tell officers whether he had called for a tow truck, and walked away from the officers, all while his large truck sat in the road impeding traffic.
Second, Mr. Lewis became agitated almost immediately. He began shouting, pointing, gesturing, and pounding his chest in response to the deputy’s request for basic information. What should have been a simple conversation quickly—and unnecessarily—devolved into Mr. Lewis interrogating the officers about whether they had taken “conscious” or “subconscious” oaths.
Third, Mr. Lewis did not bite Dep. Barth during the course of being arrested—he bit him after he had been arrested and while Dep. Barth was trying to guide him into the backseat of the vehicle, about 15 minutes after the scuffle that occurred when Dep. Barth tried to handcuff Mr. Lewis. The only force that was being applied against Mr. Lewis at the time he assaulted Dep. Barth was the force required to overcome Mr. Lewis’s resistance to being placed into the patrol car.
Fourth, Mr. Lewis was not “clotheslined.” To “clothesline” someone means “to knock down (someone, such as a football player) by catching by the neck with an outstretched arm.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/clotheslined (last accessed Nov. 28, 2022).
Here, Dep. Barth was positioned slightly behind Mr. Lewis, reached around Mr. Lewis’s shoulder and spun Mr. Lewis toward him and to the ground. He did not “clothesline” Mr. Lewis.
Finally, Mr. Lewis argues that the state failed to prove that he did not act in self-defense when he bit Dep. Barth’s neck. “The elements of a valid claim of self-defense are as follows:
(1) The defendant was not at fault in creating the situation giving rise to the affray;
(2) The defendant had a bona fide belief that he or she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that his or her only means of escape from such danger was in the use of such force; and
(3) The defendant did not violate any duty to retreat or avoid the danger.”
State v. Sepeda, 2022-Ohio-1889.
Here, the bodycam videos show that Dep. Barth was simply escorting Mr. Lewis into the patrol car at the time Mr. Lewis bit his neck. Accordingly, it was reasonable for the jury to conclude that Mr. Lewis did not have a bona fide belief that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that his or her only means of escape from such danger was to use of such force. It did not lose its way in rejecting Mr. Lewis’s claim of self-defense.
We conclude that Mr. Lewis’s conviction of felonious assault of a peace officer
was not against the weight or sufficiency of the evidence. When viewed in a light most favorable to the state, the evidence was sufficient to prove that Mr. Lewis knowingly caused serious physical harm to Deputy Dep. Barth when he bit him in the neck while Dep. Barth was placing him in the back of his patrol vehicle.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Lewis, 2022 – Ohio – 4421.
This case was issued by the Sixth District Appellate Court and is binding in the following Ohio Counties: Erie, Fulton, Huron, Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, Williams and Wood.
Mr. Lewis Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections link:
- Lewis decided to represent himself that resulted his conviction following a jury trial. I am not sure that an attorney would make a legal argument that when the deputy was trying to place Mr. Lewis in the back of the cruiser that the deputy was clotheslining a suspect which would cause Mr. Lewis to react with a ‘self-defense instinct’ and bite Dep. Barth in the neck.
- The Sixth District Appellate Court finitely analyzed the three elements of self-defense for the Sixth District: (1) The defendant was not at fault in creating the situation giving rise to the affray; (2) The defendant had a bona fide belief that he or she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that his or her only means of escape from such danger was in the use of such force; and (3) The defendant did not violate any duty to retreat or avoid the danger.” State v. Sepeda, 2022-Ohio-1889. The court opined “This [the bite] did not occur while Dep. Barth forced Mr. Lewis onto the ground to handcuff him; it happened while Dep. Barth was being placed in the patrol car. Given the nature of the conduct itself and the location of the bite, it cannot reasonably be claimed that this conduct was inadvertent or unintentional.”.
- This case is demonstrative of the significant and on-going daily dangers law enforcement face each day. Barth responded to a broken-down truck and now he has a scar on his neck from a human bite. Law enforcement is THE hardest job in America and this is but one example.
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