Baldwin Teen’s Buffalo Killing Deemed Justified Homicide Is a Rare Case

baldwin teen
Tyler Lewis

Baldwin Teen’s Buffalo Killing Deemed Justified Homicide Is a Rare Case

The family of a Baldwin teenager killed in Buffalo last year is demanding answers after Erie County prosecutors declined to press charges because authorities believe the suspect was acting in self-defense.

Tensions were high after a western New York grand jury declined to indict the man who authorities said fatally stabbed Tyler Lewis, a 19-year-old Buffalo State College student, during an altercation outside a University of Buffalo dorm on Oct. 14, 2022. Authorities argue that the case is a rare instance in which the killing was justified.

“It makes me sick to my stomach,” the teen’s mother Roquishia Lewis told television news station WGRZ. “There’s no justification for murder.”

Justifiable homicides by civilians — cases in which individuals are legally allowed to use deadly physical force against a violent criminal — account for about 2% of the more than 20,000 homicides committed annually nationwide, studies show. New York State has averaged about a half dozen such cases annually over the past eight years, according to statistics provided by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).

“There’s no justification for murder,” said Roquishia Lewis.

“While I understand that the family is seeking an arrest in this case, I stand by the decision of the grand jury,” Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said in a statement upon announcing the decision on March 10, declining to disclose evidence of testimony that the panel heard. He mentioned to reporters the involvement of a University at Buffalo student who was a friend of the victim. The university said that individual is no longer a student at University at Buffalo. 

The case is the seventh case that authorities determined to be a justified homicide committed by a civilian last year, according to DCJS, which noted that data for last year is currently considered preliminary. There have been 52 such cases statewide since 2015, when state lawmakers mandated that DCJS track such data, the statistics show.

No such cases have been reported on Long Island since then, but last year an off-duty police officer was not charged when he shot and wounded a burglar that investigators said was caught in the act of breaking into the cop’s Suffolk County home. A part of the law known as the castle doctrine gives New Yorkers the right to use deadly physical force to defend themselves in their own home. But the right isn’t absolute. For example, a Huntington Station man was charged with manslaughter in 2014 for shooting a 33-year-old suspected burglar as he ran away.

baldwin teen

New York does not have so-called Stand Your Ground laws that extend that authority to public places in other states. New Yorkers are generally required to retreat and are limited to using deadly force against attackers only when they cannot flee. 

In Lewis’ case, authorities said he was attempting to use counterfeit cash to buy a pound of marijuana from an alleged drug dealer while seated in a vehicle. When a fight broke out, the teen’s four companions surrounded the vehicle and the dealer stabbed the student, according to the district attorney. Because the dealer could not retreat since he was outnumbered, he was justified in stabbing the teen, the prosecutor said.

The slain teen’s mother, who has hired a private investigator, is filing a $10 million lawsuit against both universities.

“The defendant universities deliberately and/or recklessly admitted students known to be a danger or known to have a dangerous propensity, thereby exposing the claimants’ only child to a dangerous environment where he was likely to be seriously injured or killed,” the plaintiffs stated in court documents, adding that the defendants “failed to properly vet students prior to admission and admitted students known to have a violent history.”

The universities declined to comment beyond statements previously issued in the case.