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Austin Weekly News: A year later, memories of slain Chicago cop linger

By Ellyn Fortino

AustinTalks.org

 Clifton Lewis and Latrice Tucker would have been starting their first year of marriage if tragedy hadn’t struck a little over a year ago.
“It’s been a hard year for us, especially for me, and I know for his mom and the rest of the family,” Tucker says of Lewis, her fiancé.

She spoke of him on Dec. 29, 2012, the grim one-year anniversary of Lewis’ death. More than a year has passed since Lewis, a Chicago police officer working in Austin’s 15th District, was shot and killed. The incident occurred while Lewis, 41, was working an off-duty, part-time security job at a local convenience store.

The couple’s wedding date was set for October 2012.

Tucker thanks God for the support system her family’s received from the Chicago Police Department and the community that’s helped to keep their “spirits up through this year.”

Lewis’ mantra — to live life to the fullest — also keeps Tucker strong.

“Baby, you have to live your life,” she recalled Lewis saying to her. “That’s what he would say, ‘Just live your life.'”

Lewis was a beautiful and loving person, Tucker said.

“He was a police officer, yes, but he never had a police officer demeanor about himself,” she said. “He would want people to do right and better. He was a second-chance giver. Just a humble person. Never caused trouble. Never liked trouble. Just a very humble person.”

The eight-year police veteran was off duty, moonlighting as a security guard at M&M Quick Foods near Division Street and Austin Boulevard on Dec. 29, 2011. Two armed men came to the store to rob it and fatally shot Lewis when he attempted to stop them.

One gunman and a getaway driver were charged with first-degree murder, but police are still searching for a second gunman and another suspect.

On the one-year anniversary of Lewis’ death, police officials announced an increased reward for information about his killers from $33,000 to $40,000, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

In November 2012, Lewis’ name was the 483rd placed in the Honored Star Case, a memorial for every Chicago police officer killed in the line of duty.

“Officer Clifton Lewis served and protected the public with the utmost courage, integrity and dedication and was an exemplary model of excellence for his colleagues,” said Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy in a statement the day of the ceremony. “The city and the Chicago Police Department is honored and proud to forever count Officer Lewis as one of our own, and we will never forget him or the fallen heroes whose stars rest in this memorial.”

Lewis worked as part of the 15th Police District’s tactical team. He also served in the 8th and 11th Police Districts. During his career, Lewis earned 81 awards, including 70 honorable mentions and four department commendations, among others. Tucker said she was terribly emotional when she visited Lewis’ burial site earlier on Dec. 29.

“He wouldn’t want me crying,” she said. “He would want me to rejoice and be happy. It didn’t turn out that way.”

Tucker later reflected on her first date with Lewis. She remembers saying to him, “Officer Lewis, you may think I’m crazy, but you will be my husband.”

She recalled his response: “No I’m not. You’re just talking.”

“And 10 years later,” she said laughing, Lewis proposed on Christmas day 2011, four days before he was killed.

He first asked Keyonta Thomas, Tucker’s now 19-year-old son, for his permission. Although Thomas was Lewis’ stepson-to-be, Lewis already considered him his son, Tucker said.

“What took you so long?” Thomas, who attends Denison University in Ohio, told Lewis, according to Tucker.

“I was under the tree crying,” she said.

His daughter, now 12, and his mother also survive Lewis. In addition to being a humble person, Lewis was also a “sports fanatic.” He enjoyed playing basketball. And at home he could be found in the living room watching ESPN, Tucker said.

Lewis also played in a police department softball league and had a soft spot for animals. The couple had two pit bulls and a Siamese cat named Fiona. But about a week before Lewis was killed, he gave the two dogs to a no-kill animal shelter. With the couple’s busy work schedules, he said he wanted the dogs to receive the attention they deserved, Tucker said.

The couple lived in Austin, and Tucker said she will continue to live in the community.

“It’s home,” she said. “But at the same time it is very hard for me being here. This is where we lived. This is where he was.”

Certain streets and corners in the community trigger her memories of Lewis.

“I don’t want to go that way,” she remembered saying to herself while traveling in the community. “He was probably working there. He was probably posted there.”

When the two had time to themselves, Tucker and Lewis liked to stay in most nights and curl up on the couch with a good movie and some popcorn.

She said she cherishes every moment spent with him.

“I am just the luckiest person alive to have had him in my life,” Tucker said.

 

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