Autopsy but still no answers on Collier man's death in custody after Irma curfew arrest
Hurricane Irma destroyed parts of Chokoloskee, a small town near Everglades City, Fla., leaving knee high water and thick grey mud. Helicopters were flying overhead on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Luke Franke/Naples Daily News
The autopsy of a Chokoloskee man who died in police custody after being accused of violating the Hurricane Irma curfew has been completed, but the findings are not being released because of an active criminal investigation, according to authorities.
The Collier County Medical Examiner has released the body of Devan Rewis, 31, to a funeral home, and his service is set for Sept. 30.
Rewis’ family, who have lived in Chokoloskee for seven generations, are at a loss for how Rewis became brain-dead after being in the custody of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office for less than seven hours Sept. 14.
More about Chokoloskee: A generation of families survive Hurricane Irma's aftermath in Chokoloskee
For an uncertain period during the seven hours, paramedics responded to the scene of Rewis’ arrest at 2 a.m. at the Chokoloskee Bridge. He was taken to Physicians Regional Medical Center — Collier Boulevard. EMS officials could not be reached for details of how long Rewis was under the care of EMS or the hospital.
Rewis was booked into the Naples Jail at 5 a.m. and found unresponsive at 8:30 a.m. that same day. Paramedics were called to the jail and attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Rewis was taken to NCH Downtown Baker Hospital and taken off life support the next afternoon, Sept. 15.
“The medical examiner won’t tell me anything until the investigation is done,” his father, Eddie Rewis, said. “The medical examiner said it could take a month, it could take two months. It’s going to be a very drawn-out thing.”
Eddie Rewis was told his son’s brain was sent to a specialist in Miami and that his heart was sent to another specialist.
“Time frames from our end can vary depending on what type of tests are ordered and the consultants’ availability,” an investigator with the medical examiner said in an email.
A Collier County sheriff’s spokeswoman could not say how long the Sheriff Office’s investigation, including a professional conduct review of the officers, would take.
“There is no way to put a time frame on an investigation because each one is unique,” said sheriff’s spokesman Karie Partington. “The public expects us to conduct a thorough investigation.”
After Hurricane Irma destroyed hundreds of homes in the fishing hamlets of Everglades City and Chokoloskee on Sept. 10, Devan Rewis spent the next three days helping families salvage what they could of their possessions. He waded through bacteria-infested storm surge water to demolished mobile homes and helped cut through downed trees so neighbors could get to safety. His aunt Martha Daniels said he worked nonstop before and after Irma.
He borrowed his father’s truck Sept. 13, without asking, and they argued afterward about a radiator leak. They argued that he could have burned out the engine if he didn’t put water in the radiator, his father said. That was the last time the 53-year-old father saw his eldest son. The elder Rewis has two other boys, ages 8 and 11, from a second marriage.
Both boys are aware something bad happened to their half-brother at the bridge. When the family was returning home from dinner in Naples at 8:30 p.m. — after Devan Rewis died and before the curfew was lifted — the boys got anxious when they approached the bridge.
“My boys were scared because it was close to the curfew,” Eddie Rewis said. “They said, ‘The police are going to kill us. The police are going to kill us.’ ”
He had to assure them nobody was going to kill them.
But the family has no details of what transpired from the time Devan Rewis left Chokoloskee on Sept. 13, and when they were called to NCH. That’s when they saw him on life support, with bruises and welts covering his face and neck.
Sometime that afternoon, Devan Rewis and his cousin’s wife Angela Goff got into her car to go to Naples. People on the island needed supplies, and they were getting chain saws fixed. Daniels gave Goff, her daughter-in-law, $200 for supplies. They also wanted to check on how friends had fared during Irma.
Once in town, they went to the NCH Downtown hospital so Devan Rewis could visit his ailing grandmother. She had raised him since he was 3 after the death of his mother in a car crash. His grandmother Lorna Rewis acknowledged her grandson has a long history of drug abuse and jail time. He was not high when he visited her in the hospital, she said.
After leaving his grandmother, they went to visit Devan Rewis’ ex-girlfriend Ashleigh Bryant, 32. She used to live with Rewis in Chokoloskee and grew up in East Naples. They dated on and off for eight years.
“I saw them all afternoon,” Bryant said. “He always helped me with everything.”
She was running low on gas, a common predicament after Irma. Devan Rewis helped her refill her car. It was close to 9 p.m. when they said goodbye.
“I said, ‘Please don’t go,’ ” Bryant said in an interview Thursday.
She pleaded with them to stay until morning because of the curfew. Bryant later told Rewis’ father that he had wanted to get home to apologize to his father for their fight earlier in the day.
“It’s just so awful,” Bryant said Thursday. “I’m still in shock.”
She never saw Devan Rewis be anything but calm whenever they were pulled over by law enforcement officers.
“Devan was a character, but he was not disrespectful,” Bryant said.
Devan Rewis and Goff arrived at the Chokoloskee bridge at 1:32 a.m. the morning of Sept. 14. They were stopped by an officer with the Tampa Police Department, according to Rewis’ arrest report. Several law enforcement agencies had joined the Collier Sheriff’s Office to watch the bridge around the clock because of damage to it. Officers from the University of South Florida Police Department also did shifts at the bridge.
The Tampa officer radioed to a Collier sergeant that he had stopped a car at the bridge. The Collier sergeant told the Tampa officer to hold the car until the sergeant could get there.
The Collier sergeant asked Devan Rewis what he was doing out past curfew. They had gone to Walmart, Rewis responded. The sergeant asked him to get out of the car.
Rewis put on his shoes and got out of the car. Rewis was told to turn around and place his hands on his car. He asked, “Why?” He was told he was under arrest for violating the curfew.
Rewis reacted by trying to run, the report says. He intentionally pushed an officer with the USF Police Department in the chest, according to his arrest report. He hit the USF officer in the head with his right forearm.
The Collier sergeant and two out-of-town officers tackled Rewis. The Collier sergeant used a stun gun to Rewis’ lower left hip area. The stun gun did not get the desired effect, so the sergeant moved in with a "drive" stun gun to Rewis’ stomach. Rewis tried to get the stun gun from the sergeant, who maintained control of the device.
“However, Rewis’ finger was on the trigger, activating the device longer,” according to the arrest report.
The officers were able to secure him in handcuffs. Paramedics were called to the scene because of the stun gun use. The struggle between Rewis and the three officers took place on rocky terrain next to the road. The Tampa police officer had cuts to his hands and was exposed to Rewis’ blood on his uniform.
While Rewis was being searched, he began to complain of jaw pain. He was put in the back of a patrol car while awaiting EMS.
The car Goff was driving was searched, and a black purse was found under the driver’s seat. The purse contained drug paraphernalia and a pipe with residue of methamphetamine, the report says. Goff, 36, was arrested on suspicion of possession of drug paraphernalia and for violating the curfew. She was booked into the jail at 3:10 a.m.
Devan Rewis was taken to Physicians Regional and was booked into the jail at 5 a.m. At 8:30 a.m., he was found unresponsive in his cell in the medical housing area. Paramedics were called, and he was taken to NCH. The Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that Rewis had suffered some sort of medical episode.
Goff, who since has been released on bond, declined an interview with the Naples Daily News.
“It’s been a roller-coaster,” Daniels, Rewis' aunt, said of how the family is faring. There is too much law enforcement harassment and brutality taking place, she said.
“We want to know what happened, and we want to stop it because we see too much of it down here,” Daniels said.
Doctors were unable to tell Eddie Rewis what caused his son to become brain-dead and on life support. The family was told there was no hope.
“I’ve been talking to attorneys,” he said.
Some attorneys have said it’s possible he should not have been released from Physicians Regional and taken to the jail.
Devan Rewis' funeral will be at Hodges Funeral Home at Naples Memorial Gardens, 525 111th Ave. N., North Naples, on Sept. 30, with visitation to begin at 10 a.m. and a service at 11 a.m.