Cousins Monesha and Danell Lewis spent most of their lives in the same home, growing up more like siblings.

Since Danell’s death Oct. 21 in police custody, Monesha Lewis says she and her family have lived a nightmare and have been kept in the dark about Danell’s death. They want it to end.

“Every time I wake up, I keep thinking he’s going to come through the door,” she said.

Lewis, 29, and Robert Chad Williams, 21, both of Beckley, were arrested on the afternoon of Oct. 21 during a routine traffic stop in which multiple types of illegal drugs were found in the vehicle Williams was driving, according to Beckley police. Police have not named the drugs. Both men were charged with violation of the uniform controlled substance act. Williams was later released on bond.

The two were brought to the police station for processing when Lewis suddenly became ill, police said. The cause of illness is unknown. He was taken to Raleigh General Hospital, where he later died.

The state medical examiner’s office has yet to release its final report on Lewis’ death, according to both Beckley police officials and Mayor Emmett Pugh. A preliminary report in late October stated no signs of physical trauma or injuries were found during initial evaluation of his body.

However, Monesha Lewis and other members of her family say they must know everything that happened to Danell that night. She made a plea for those answers at a recent Beckley Common Council meeting.

Pugh said he could not comment, particularly because the medical examiner’s final report has not been released, but added the police have an ongoing investigation. He did note that city officials have periodically checked with the medical examiner trying to speed the process.

Police Chief Billy Cole said Chief of Detectives Capt. Cedric Robertson is heading the investigation, but also declined to comment much on the internal probe until the medical examiner’s report is complete.

“When we see what all the facts are, we will make a determination of what happened,” he said. “We have called (the medical examiner’s office) I don’t know how many times. I’m not sure what the problem is, but I’d like to have it now. Unfortunately, we must wait until it is finished, and there is nothing we can really do until it is finished.”

Monesha Lewis said a police officer told her that her cousin swallowed something that apparently caused his death. However, she wants concrete, specific answers about what happened at the police station.

According to Monesha Lewis’ statement to council, the family specifically wants to know if the investigation into the death is ongoing, if a reported five officers involved in his arrest have been suspended pending any investigation’s outcome and if a video or audio tape of the arrest and/or time at the police station exists. If the latter is true, the family wants to see it. The family also wants a full police report on his arrest and death.

In response, Cole said the officers involved remain on duty, except Cpl. Tim Sweeney, who recently resigned. Sweeney was the subject of an internal investigation stemming from an alleged altercation at a Beckley nightclub when he was off-duty.

Before Danell died, Monesha Lewis said, she had nothing against police officers. Afterward, she and others hung up posters featuring a photo of Danell next to a silhouette of a police officer waving a baton in the air — surrounded by question marks.

“Is the Beckley Police Department responsible?” the headline read, and “DON’T LET THEM COVER IT UP!” was superimposed across Danell’s photo.

“If I ever needed them, I’d call them, but now I won’t,” she said. “... I’m not saying the whole force is bad, but some of them are. ... It’s like you don’t have any help. It’s like we have no one to fight for us. Who are we supposed to call to help us out?”

Monesha Lewis admits her cousin did not lead a perfect life. He previously had been convicted on drug charges and was released from prison in February after serving time for a parole violation. Afterward, he moved to Atlanta and worked, returning to Beckley after his grandfather became ill.

She described him as a man who’d give the shirt off his back, who had a beautiful singing voice, frequently winning singing contests. His favorite song to sing was “Jesus Loves Me.”

— E-mail: apridemore@register-herald.com

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