After his family opened their presents on Christmas Day, Chicago Police Officer Clifton Lewis assembled them before the Christmas tree – with a question on his mind.
The 6-foot-5 “gentle giant” then got down on one knee and asked: would his girlfriend of eight years, Latrice, marry him?
She said “yes.”
Four days later, during his first week at a side job working security at a grocery store near his West Side home, Lewis was shot and killed. Lewis, 41, had taken the job in part to help pay for the wedding, family said Friday.
Two masked robbers went into M&M Quick Foods at Austin and Division and killed Lewis, an eight-year veteran of the Chicago Police force, assigned to the Austin District’s tactical team.
“What I can tell you is, the officer didn’t stand a chance in this case,” Police Supt. Garry McCarthy told reporters Friday. “He did everything he could. One offender was armed with a handgun and a second individual was armed with something which would be akin to . . . a TEC-9.”
Without offering specifics, McCarthy said investigators have “some significant leads.”
As detectives searched for Lewis’ killers Friday, his family and friends mourned him.
Officer Calvin Jones, Lewis’ police partner for 31/2 years, said the two were like brothers.
“We saved each other’s lives every day,” Jones said, adding the two policemen used to tell each other, “If we go home together, we’re doing OK.”
Jones said he used to jokingly call his partner “the mayor of the 15th District, because he tried to help everybody.”
Keyonta Thomas, Lewis’ stepson-to-be, described the officer as “a great man.”
“We called him the ‘gentle giant,’ ” said Thomas, a freshman at Denison University.
“My mom’s taking it really hard. He proposed to her on Christmas. He asked me for my permission to have her hand in marriage and I said ‘yes.’ And then he got on one knee after we opened all our presents and proposed to her in front of me and his daughter” – 11-year-old Simone.
Lewis’ fiancee’s dad, Ron Tucker, had been elated with the news of the pending marriage.
“He was quiet, he was wonderful,” said Tucker. “He was an all-around [good] guy. He got taken out too soon.”
Tucker said his daughter is devastated by the loss.
“Right now, she’s [in] a total breakdown,” he said.
Thomas on Friday wrote about Lewis on his Facebook page:
“Why did someone have to kill my step-dad? I hate this damn world. Clift, you was my friend and even more – you acted as a father to me. You did what many men wouldn’t do, and that’s taking someone else’s child. You made my mom happy and me also. I will never forget you. R.I.P., Clift. Love, Your Son.”
Investigators said Lewis was hit by multiple shots in the 8:30 p.m. robbery.
“Officer Lewis acted in his official capacity as a Chicago police officer, drawing his weapon and countering the offenders,” McCarthy said. As soon as the gunmen entered, one of them “immediately turned and started firing . . . and Officer Lewis engaged that individual and was subsequently murdered.”
Lewis was pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital.
The robbers, who were caught on surveillance video, apparently stole Lewis’ gun, sources said. The store had been robbed several weeks earlier, residents said.
Lewis lived on the West Side with his fiancee about a mile from the store. They moved into a 11/2-story white stucco home recently, and had fixed it up. They decorated for Christmas with red and silver tinsel on a black wrought-iron fence in front of the home.
“He didn’t come off like ‘I’m the police,’ [and] make himself known as an authority. He was not arrogant or anything. He was a cool guy,” said Tony Ray, a 35-year-old musician who lived on Lewis’ block.
Residents were happy to have a cop like Lewis living in their neighborhood. A sign in Lewis’ front window reads: “Don’t be afraid of the dog. Be afraid of the owner.”
“I felt much safer with him on the block,” said neighbor Derry “Blue” Chambliss. “He went to work. He came home and he walked his dogs – two pit bulls, a black one and a white one. He was a good neighbor. Man, he was OK.”
Lewis was a basketball aficionado, playing in a police department league and following his favorite team, the Bulls, and his favorite player, Derrick Rose. He was excited when the NBA season recently resumed after the summer-long lockout, Ray said.
“It’s sad that the lockout just ended, but now his life is over,” he said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement Friday: “The death of Police Officer Clifton Lewis is a tragic and senseless loss, most deeply for Officer Lewis’ family and those who served alongside him, but also for the entire city of Chicago. Officer Lewis died as he had lived, serving and protecting his community. He proudly wore the CPD uniform for eight years in the 15th district where he worked each and every day to preserve the safety and well-being of the community. His courage and sense of duty to the city are examples for us all.”
The last Chicago officer shot and killed was Michael Flisk, who was killed Nov. 26, 2010, while processing a crime scene in a burglary.
The Chicago Police Memorial Foundation is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the gunmen.
Anyone with information about Thursday’s shooting is asked to call (888) 976-7468.
Contributing: Stefano Esposito, Tina Sfondeles, LeeAnn Shelton, Adeshina Emmanuel