It was not a chance meeting between strangers that left a Jamestown police officer with a bullet in his head, fighting for his life.
Authorities say James E. Lewis Jr. knew exactly whom he was dealing with Wednesday night when he approached an unmarked police car and fired a shot into the face of Officer David Mitchell.
Police Chief William R. MacLaughlin said a meeting near the corner of Benedict and Wescott streets had been arranged between Lewis and Mitchell, who was accompanied by his partner. Mitchell and his partner, another Jamestown officer whose name is being withheld by police, are assigned to the Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force.
"As soon as he (Mitchell) rolled down the window of his vehicle, he was shot in the head by (Lewis)," MacLaughlin said. "This individual knew Mitchell was a police officer, and Officer Mitchell knew the individual.
"My belief is that Officer Mitchell had no reason to believe that his life would be in any danger or threatened by that individual . . . based on the fact of numerous contacts," MacLaughlin said.
After Mitchell was wounded, his partner "challenged the suspect," the police chief said. "The suspect turned and fired his weapon. . . . The officer returned fire, and one of his rounds struck the suspect."
Lewis, 18, suffered a gunshot wound to the pelvis. He was arraigned on attempted first-degree murder charges in WCA Hospital Thursday afternoon by City Court Judge John LaMancuso.
No plea was entered; a preliminary hearing was scheduled for Wednesday in City Court. Then Lewis reportedly was transferred to a secured unit at Erie County Medical Center, where information about his condition was not being released Thursday night.
Mitchell, 43, is in a medically induced coma in ECMC.
Dr. Gregory Castiglia, a staff neurosurgeon there, said Thursday afternoon that Mitchell had survived a 10-hour operation and remained in critical condition in the trauma intensive-care unit.
MacLaughlin denied reports that the shooting was the result of a drug bust gone bad.
"This was not a sting operation.
This was not a buy-bust situation. This was an officer who had a known -- I'm not sure I'd want to use the word informant -- but certainly a person who possessed information regarding illegal drug activity," he said.
After the exchange of gunfire, authorities said Lewis fled into the hillside neighborhood. Police officers from several agencies converged on the area, sealing it off as they searched for the suspect.
Police said they later learned that Lewis was only down the street, at the home of an acquaintance at 112 1/2 Wescott St. There, he holed up for about five hours with a woman and her child.
Police said the woman and child left the house before Lewis was talked into surrendering -- without incident -- shortly before 3 a.m. Thursday.
A weapon was recovered, but police declined to talk about it Thursday.
Lewis, whose last known address is in Jamestown, is a felon -- having served a year behind bars for a 1997 assault conviction in Rochester, according to Chautauqua County District Attorney James Subjack.
There are pending drug charges against Lewis in Jamestown, Subjack said.
Though the Southern Tier city has experienced an increase in the types of crimes usually associated with larger urban areas, attacks on police officers are rare.
Robert Rader was the last police officer shot on the job, in 1971. And an officer hasn't been killed in the line of duty since 1915, when George Kendall died at age 24 while responding to a family dispute. The Police Department's Benevolent Association -- The Kendall Club -- was named in his memory.
A 17-year veteran of the Jamestown Police Department, Mitchell followed in the footsteps of his father, Philip, a retired Orchard Park police officer of 31 years.
After college, Mitchell worked as a public safety officer, first at Oswego, then at the University at Buffalo for two or three years in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
"He was a go-getter," said John M. Grela, director of university police at UB. "He could handle any situation, and he was energetic. He was one of the officers you could depend on to make sure everything was done right."
Even then, Mitchell showed the type of demeanor that would lead to his assignment nine years ago to the drug task force.
"He wasn't overly aggressive," Grela said. "He had a very even temper and knew how to handle himself."
After taking the job in Jamestown, Mitchell yearned to return to the Buffalo area. "He wanted to be a Buffalo cop in the worst way," one friend said Thursday.
A police colleague commented on Mitchell's love of his job with the task force:
"I really think he thrived on the danger of the job, plus he really wanted to help young people who showed any indication of turning away from drugs and setting their (lives) straight."
Another Jamestown police officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he was among the estimated 100 police officers who responded to the crime scene Wednesday night. Officers who weren't scheduled for duty found a way in and suited up, just to be there to offer their assistance.
As quickly as police rushed to help a fallen comrade, the Jamestown officer said they now felt an urgency to reassure their own loved ones.
"I don't think you're going to find a lot of guys who are going to want to talk after their shifts," he told a reporter Thursday afternoon. "They'll want to go home and be with their wives."
Mitchell is married with two young sons.