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Fugitive in custody after Clearwater standoff

CLEARWATER — An armed fugitive hiding in an apartment was arrested Wednesday after a four-hour standoff with a SWAT team ended peacefully, authorities said.

Levon Lewis, 32, was inside the apartment at 1275 Franklin St., located south of Cleveland Street and east of Missouri Avenue. He refused to come out when officers went there to arrest him Tuesday night after they got a tip that he was staying there, police said.

Clearwater police asked neighbors to leave their homes, but many stayed. Some felt safer in their own homes or had nowhere else to go. Others like Martha Mendoza, who lives across the street from the apartment, said they have become too jaded to feel threatened.

"You learn to expect this sort of thing around here," Mendoza said in Spanish. "There's lots of drugs, lots of crime around here. It's life."

Lewis was holding three people against their will, police said: his mother, Emmie Wilson, 50; his brother, Christopher Reeves, 17; and an acquaintance, Ebonie Watson, 21. None of them was injured.

Lewis faces charges of felony battery, aggravated assault with a firearm, felon in possession of a firearm and false imprisonment stemming from the standoff. Police had sought Lewis for two weeks, since a June 23 incident in which he was charged with felony battery and aggravated assault with a firearm.

A police SWAT team was called to the apartment about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday when Lewis refused give himself up, police said.

SWAT team members initially reported seeing Lewis grab Wilson, who "indicated that she needed help," police said. A negotiator persuaded Lewis to surrender peacefully around 6:40 a.m.

Police blocked off streets in a three-block radius in the neighborhood just east of downtown and asked nearby residents to evacuate.

Patti Warren, 55, said police twice knocked on her door next to where the standoff was happening, once around 2:30 a.m. and again around 4 a.m. But Warren stayed inside. "I prayed for everyone to be all right and no one to be hurt," Warren said.

Other residents also chose to stay inside rather than follow police advice and leave the area. Some residents poured into the street to see what was going on.

In the June 23 incident, Lewis went to the same apartment to visit with his mother, Emmie Wilson, and her husband Johnny Wilson, according to a police report. Emmie Wilson and Lewis started arguing over money to pay her cable bill, police said.

When Johnny Wilson tried to intervene and asked Lewis to leave, Lewis hit him, then grabbed a bottle of liquor, which he threw against the building, police said.

Lewis then went to his vehicle and removed what appeared to be a handgun from a bag while he threatened to kill Johnny Wilson, according to a Clearwater police report.

Lewis has numerous previous arrests dating to the mid 1990s, including possession and sale of various drugs, including cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine.

He spent nine months in prison in 2004 after he was convicted of fleeing and eluding a law enforcement officer and aggravated assault in Volusia County, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Pinellas court records show Lewis was out of jail on bond at the time of Wednesday's stand-off after he was charged with felonious possession of a firearm and sale and possession of cocaine in January. A pre-trial hearing in that case is scheduled for July 15.

On Wednesday, Lewis was being held without bail in the Pinellas County jail.

Fugitive in custody after Clearwater standoff 07/06/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 7:41pm]
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