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Man shot by Niagara Falls officer had weapon, drugs, police say

NIAGARA FALLS – Police were executing a “no-knock” search warrant Wednesday night, aiming to seize drugs, when an officer fired his weapon, wounding a 33-year-old man, police and other sources told The Buffalo News.

Police said they found drugs and a weapon in the house.

Stacey M. Lewis, 33, was shot in the abdomen. He is being treated at Erie County Medical Center, and the Niagara Falls police said that he is in critical but stable condition. Lewis was the subject of the warrant, police said.

At a press conference Thursday, Niagara Falls Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto identified the officer involved as Thomas Rodgers. Rodgers, an 8-year veteran of the force, has been placed on administrative leave pending a full investigation.

“As the officers approached the house, they did witness the individual with a weapon in his hand,” DalPorto said.

The superintendent explained that SWAT team members spotted Lewis through a front picture window with a rifle. When they forced open a storm door and metal reinforced door, Rodgers shot Lewis, DalPorto said. The superintendent declined to say whether Lewis was armed at that point.

“That’s part of the investigation,” DalPorto said.

Thomas H. Burton, an attorney who often represents Western New York police officers in shooting situations, said he spoke with the officer involved in the shooting and described the situation from Wednesday night.

Between 15 and 18 officers, members of the Niagara County Drug Task Force a drug task force, went to the house at at 488 20th St. near Ferry Avenue to serve the warrant, according to DalPorto.

The officer saw Lewis running upstairs in the house carrying what appeared to be a long weapon as police tried to batter down a steel security door that Lewis had slammed on them as officers were prying open a screen door, Burton said.

Once police entered the house, Lewis was partially concealed behind a protrusion in a hallway, with his face visible but his hands hidden, Burton said. Officers shouted at Lewis to show his hands, but Lewis was looking downward toward his hands, Burton said.

The officer was “a couple of steps away,” Burton said.

The officer fired once, striking Lewis in the abdomen, and he fell face down. Officers found a box cutter with the blade exposed and a cellphone beside him, Burton said.

DalPorto told The Buffalo News Wednesday night that Lewis was holding an assault rifle when he was struck by a single shot.

Detectives were at Erie County Medical Center Thursday interviewing Lewis. DalPorto said Lewis was to be arraigned sometime Thursday at the hospital on five felony drug charges and one count of criminal possession of a weapon.

Police seized from Lewis’ house six package of powder cocaine, two packages of heroin and a package of unidentified pills, plus $2,000, the superintendent said. Also seized was a Hungarian knockoff of an AK-47 assault weapon with a collapsible stock and fully-loaded high capacity magazine, DalPorto said.

“If this guy wasn’t dealing drugs and he wasn’t in possession of an illegal assault rifle, he wouldn’t be in the hospital. He’s lucky he’s alive,” Burton said.

Lewis was treated immediately by an officer with medical training, using a military-strength blood coagulant, Burton said. Lewis was stabilized at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and transferred to Erie County Medical Center, where an official said Thursday morning that he is a “restricted patient.”

“He’s in stable condition,” DalPorto said Thursday. “It appears non-life-threatening, and depending are going there to try to interview him.”

Burton said Lewis, who has a felony criminal record, was asked to surrender but did not.

“Given this guy’s track record, (the officer) is entitled to an abundance of caution so he can go home in one piece,” Burton said. “If this guy just put up his hands to a SWAT officer in full battle gear, he wouldn’t have been hurt.”

Niagara Falls patrol officers were among the first in the region to wear body cameras, but DalPorto said the department’s SWAT team members do not wear cameras because the equipment could hinder their swift movements and not accurately capture events. He also said that confidential informants and undercover officers sometimes participate in the SWAT team responses, and recording images of them could put them at risk.

“We want to be as transparent as possible, and that’s why we are having this press conference,” he said Thursday.

Lewis has been to state prison twice for drug felonies, according to state Department of Correctional Services website.

In 2003, he served a year for fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

In 2007, he was convicted of fifth-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and served four years, including time for a parole violation.

In 2012, Lewis was arrested in a drug raid in Niagara Falls and was indicted, but the charges were dismissed after a judge ruled there was no probable cause to issue the search warrant.

In 2014, he was reported shot in the back on Whitney Avenue, but it could not be determined if the case was solved.

A second man in the house, whose name is not yet being disclosed, was arrested on drug and weapons possession charges.

email: mgryta@buffnews.com, tprohaska@buffnews.com, lmichel@buffnews.com

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