Roquishia Lewis is still shell-shocked after a grand jury voted to not press charges against the white man who fatally stabbed her 19-year-old son on a college campus — and she’s even more confused by how her son has been portrayed by the Erie County district attorney in New York.
“I’m devastated by how they handled this whole entire investigation,” Lewis told Capital B.
During a March 10 press conference, John Flynn, Erie County’s district attorney, said Tyler Lewis was a part of a botched plot to rob and beat a marijuana dealer using counterfeit cash, and that the dealer acted in self-defense.
On Oct. 14, a fight broke out between the Buffalo State College sophomore, his friends, and the dealer, and that’s when Tyler was stabbed in the chest at the University at Buffalo North Campus, Flynn said. The college sophomore died later that day at a nearby hospital.
“That was just not in his character. Tyler came from a two-parent, loving household,” Lewis said. “He was being groomed for greatness, not to go to school — tuition already paid for — all the way up in Buffalo to become a robber.”
Months after the incident and the Nassau County, New York, family’s agonizing search for answers, the grand jury concluded on March 10 that the dealer’s actions were justified.
“The stabber here had justification to use deadly physical force on two theories: one, being a victim of robbery, and two, for his own safety. That’s all that matters in this case,” Flynn said during the press conference.
Lewis says she’s devastated that Flynn seemed to have empathized with her son’s killer when he referenced him as a victim. She also wonders if charges would have been filed if Tyler was white and the man who stabbed him was Black.
During the question-and-answer portion of the press conference, Flynn was asked if any of the other alleged robbers who were with Tyler would be charged. Flynn responded that it would be “a travesty of justice” to turn the stabber into a witness to his own assault.
In the days after Tyler’s stabbing, the assailant was described as a white man between the ages of 19 and 22, and that he had several cuts from the fatal scuffle, including a large laceration across his forehead.
The knife used to stab Tyler — and the drugs prosecutors say he tried to buy — have never been found. Without those pieces of evidence, the man who stabbed Tyler could not be arrested.
Tyler was Roquishia and Terence Lewis’ only child — and she says she’s lost confidence in the nearly six-month investigation and is calling for an independent review of the case. The family has hired a private investigator.
Since their son’s death, the family has held candlelight vigils and connected with Black Lives Matter Grassroots to strengthen their demand for justice beyond New York.
The family filed a $10 million notice of claim in January against the state of New York, the University at Buffalo, and State University of New York Buffalo. The claim, which is the first step before filing a lawsuit against a government agency or the state, accuses the universities of failing to “properly vet students prior to admission and admitted students known to have a violent history, thereby failing to provide a safe environment for Taylor Xavier Lewis.”
The state’s attorney general’s office, which represents the state of New York, denied the accusations, saying that Tyler caused his own death by his “culpable conduct.”
What happened on the day Tyler died
On the evening of Oct. 14, Tyler was expected to meet his girlfriend for dinner, but when he didn’t share his location with her — a routine of theirs — she thought he was missing and called his mother.
Lewis was more than 400 miles away at their Baldwin home when she learned that Tyler was dead. She and her husband hopped on the next flight to Buffalo to collect most of his belongings and bring his body home for a final goodbye.
The months following the tragedy, Lewis spoke to the investigators every week and thought an arrest was imminent. Three months into the investigation, there wasn’t an arrest.
Meanwhile, the dealer had been named a “person of interest.” Multiple University at Buffalo press releases said he was on the lam.
During the press conference, Flynn disclosed additional evidence that was presented to the grand jury. Some text messages were from Tyler’s girlfriend, who months prior to his death warned him to “be careful about hanging out with those guys,” said Flynn, who chastised his girlfriend for not telling his parents about her concerns.
Lewis says she was disappointed with how Flynn described Tyler as the mastermind behind his own death during the press conference.
She adds that Tyler was often with his girlfriend and the others involved in the incident were new associates.
“How could he paint my child like this?” Lewis questioned. “I’m adamant about getting answers and pushing for an arrest.” She also believes her son was set up by the other men who were with him.
Through the Lewis family’s independent investigation, they believe that because Tyler does not have a criminal record, he may have been used as a pawn to buy the drugs using fake money, his mother said.
“They were the ones who had all communication with this drug dealer,” Lewis said. “I just feel like those boys knew what was going on and Tyler did not.”