The Price of Winning
Lewis had just finished 112 days in jail because he didn’t have the cash to make bail. When jurors finally freed him on Feb. 9, Lewis walked out homeless, unemployed and minus most of his possessions.
It's not like Lewis was some street guy, some poor homeless man with a shopping cart and can of beans to his name. He was, well, pretty regular.
Lewis, a Kansas native, moved to West Des Moines in fall 2010 to take a job in an Internal Revenue Service call center.
A former security guard and law enforcement officer, Lewis also is a hunter and gun collector and came to Iowa with a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Lewis found himself in a road rage incident with a 35-year-old guy named James Scott Ludwick, described as a former soldier and convicted felon, who was driving home from a party, with his blood alcohol content at .189. An accident happened, and Ludwick got out of his car and attacked Lewis, who warned him to stop and eventually shot him. It was captured on the 911 call made by Lewis. Shockingly, Lewis was still on with the 911 dispatcher awaiting police assistance as things came to a head, the police nowhere to be found.
According to Polk County officials, most pre-trial inmates spend 20 days in jail until they make bail and get back to normal. But Lewis couldn't make bail.
West Des Moines police arrested Lewis for failing to back off and avoid the gunplay. He was charged with two counts of intimidation with a dangerous weapon and one of going armed with intent.
The initial bail asked Lewis to post $225,000 cash.
Lewis, who made $32,359 a year at the IRS, didn’t have the money. So he sat in jail.
Given how common it is for those IRS employees to flee, it's easy to understand why the prosecution would seek an amount that assured the defendant would remain incarcerated pending trial, and why the judge would go along. What is less palatable is the police decision to arrest Lewis for defending himself. Certainly, it's easier to decide that the fellow who shot from inside his car the guy who was attacking him from the outside was wrong, despite warnings, but then, the easy way is always, well, easiest.
That Lewis spent only 112 days in jail until his acquittal is remarkable. In other jurisdictions, trial wouldn't happen for far longer, with a year and a half, may two, being within the realm of probability. Less than four months from arrest to trial is pretty fast, all things considered, though not fast enough to prevent Lewis' eviction.
One week after the shooting, a lawyer for [Lewis' landlord] Regency Woods typed up a notice that eventually was posted on the door of Lewis’ apartment. It described Lewis as a “clear and present danger to the health or safety of the other tenants.” As evidence, it cited Lewis’ involvement in “an assault with a weapon within 1,000 feet of the property described above” and the fact that he’d been arrested because of it.
Amazingly, the landlord won the eviction.
Documents say a process server tried twice the next day to contact Lewis at the apartment. Lawyers also sent him a certified letter. Lewis was never there.
Despite the fact that Regency Woods knew Lewis had been arrested, no one ever contacted him at the jail. Instead, the apartment complex won a default judgment when Lewis failed to appear in court on Nov. 22.
And of course, when someone is evicted, something has to be done about his "stuff."
The evicting deputy seized four handguns, three rifles, a shotgun and a machete that had been left in the apartment. But all his clothing and furniture disappeared on Nov. 30, along with a laptop containing the only copy of his fourth novel (a western).
“That was several decades of my life that got flushed down the toilet,” Lewis said. “I had a beautiful flat-screen TV. It’s now in somebody else’s living room. … For a while there, every time I turned around it was like, ‘Can it possibly get any worse?’ ”
It seems his belongings were left out at the curb. Inexplicably, they weren't still there when the jury returned the verdict of not guilty on February 9th, more than two months later. Go figure.
Stories like this are often related in hushed tones about how the legal system works, how an innocent man fought the charges and was ultimately vindicated. This makes us feel good about legal system, trial by jury, the best system ever created for the administration of justice. After all, justice was done, because Jay Rodney Lewis walked out of jail and headed straight for Fudruckers to get his first decent meal in almost four months. It doesn't get any better than this.
And so we hold the travails of Lewis up as a beacon to what a wonderful job we do. The system has a name for guys like Lewis: Winner! He beat the rap. Too bad the ride destroyed his life, but that's the price of our wonderful system.