NAPLES, Fla. —A Florida man is searching for answers after his son died while in police custody after being arrested for violating a county curfew early Thursday.
Devan Rewis, 31, died in custody at NCH Downtown Baker Hospital in Naples on Friday after he was arrested on a charge of violating Collier County’s curfew early Thursday.
Eddie Rewis Jr., 53, and his extended family want to know how Devan wound up on life support at the hospital following his arrest.
When the family was notified to go to NCH Downtown, doctors could not say what caused him to be on life support, according to Rewis Jr. Doctors told the family Devan was brain dead and he was taken off of life support and died at 5:53 p.m. Friday.
When he was brought to the jail the day before, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office said Rewis resisted officers and they deployed pepper spray to get him under control, according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office. At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, deputies found him slumped over in his cell in the medical area of the jail. They called paramedics, who performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
“I don’t know how long he laid in the cell unresponsive,” said his father. “I don’t have nothing yet. I’ve been at a loss. Doctors don’t know what he died from.”
Rewis — the great-grandson of Loren “Totch” Brown, a legend in the tiny island community of Chokoloskee — was stopped by law enforcement at the Chokoloskee bridge at 1:32 a.m. ET Thursday. He had gone into town to get supplies and to get some chainsaws fixed. He was riding in a car driven by his cousin Angela Goff, 36.
When they arrived at the bridge, which was being manned by law enforcement officers because of damage from Hurricane Irma, he was ordered to get out of the vehicle and put his hands on the car. He was being arrested on suspicion of violating the curfew, which was from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. since the night of Sept. 11, the day after Hurricane Irma hit the county.
Rewis started to run and pushed one of the law enforcement officers in the chest and struck the officer in the head, according to his arrest report.
Additional officers led chase and tackled Rewis, twice using a stun gun to immobilize him, the arrest report states.
Rewis was taken to Physicians Regional-Collier Boulevard, where he was treated before he was transported to the jail. He was arrested on suspicion of battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest with violence, resisting arrest without violence and violating the 9 p.m. curfew.
When the car was searched at the bridge, a black purse was found under the driver’s side seat that contained drug paraphernalia and a pipe with residue of methamphetamine. Goff, 36, was arrested on charges of possessing drug paraphernalia and violating the curfew.
Eddie Rewis said he was notified Thursday that his son was in the hospital. He believes officers assaulted his son, an opinion he reached by looking at the bruises and cuts he could see while his son was on life support.
‘”I’ve always taught him to be polite to police. He’s never struggled with an officer,” Rewis said. “He’s never been violent to police officers.”
Rewis acknowledges his son has a history of drug arrests after he fell in with the wrong crowd at school in Everglades City. He believes out-of-town police officers who were assisting at the bridge are responsible for what happened.
“Local police know Devan,” Rewis said. “They know he was trying to get home.”
Rewis, who is a sixth-generation resident of Chokoloskee, said life has been trying for the family. He himself became caught up in the drug smuggling world that engulfed many residents of Chokoloskee and Everglades City in the 1970s and ’80s. He was sent to prison for a couple of years. His first wife, Kimberly Rewis, was killed in a car wreck when Devan Rewis was 3, and the boy went to live with his grandmother, Lorna Rewis, 78.
His son was helping everyone on the island after Irma devastated the community, Eddie Rewis said. The last time he spoke with his son, they had argued. Devan had taken his truck without permission to help some local residents.
“We got into an argument,” Rewis said. “That was my last contact with him.”
When Devan and his cousin went to Naples to get supplies, they went to NCH Downtown so he could visit his grandmother, who was hospitalized a few days after Irma because of the heat and her heart condition. She has a pacemaker.
From there, they went to see his former girlfriend to see how she held up after Irma. She tried to get them to spend the night because of the curfew, Rewis said.
The former girlfriend said his son was insistent on getting back to Chokoloskee so he could apologize for the fight they had earlier in the day.
Lorna Rewis said she can always tell when her grandson was using drugs and he hadn’t been on anything when he visited her in the hospital.
“I know my (Devan) has a history of drugs, but he wasn’t high when he came to see me in the hospital,” she said. “He was straight as he could be. I can tell when he has smoked a joint. I know him that well.”
Before Irma barreled into the region, he helped everyone prepare for the storm, said his aunt, Martha Daniels, 55. Afterward, he waded into waist-high water to help people get out of their torn-apart mobile homes, cutting away trees that blocked roads and driveways in the grueling heat, she said.
“He worked like the Incredible Hulk before, during and after the storm,” said Daniels, who was clerk for the Everglades City government for many years. Her daughter-in-law is Goff, who was in the car with him.
“They went to town to get supplies for everybody, and they were checking up on people,” she said. The family didn’t know what time they were trying to get back on the island.
“He was everybody’s sweetheart,” Daniels said about her nephew. She remembers him running around outside the house in his underwear as a kid, or tying a T-shirt around his neck and pretending to be Superman. He always had a smile on his face.
The drug use landed him in and out of jail often, and he was trying lately to get away from the drugs, she said. That’s not easy when drug use is all around the island.
His grandmother tried to get him into a better life. For a while, Rewis worked with his grandfather, who runs the Buttonwood Trailer Mobile Home Park, and he was always able to fix things, like a television that would be left on the street for the trash and all it needed was some tweaking, Eddie Rewis said.
“I wanted him to do better,” Lorna Rewis said. “He promised me he would do better.”
There were times when her grandson would call her his mother, and that was fine with her, since she basically raised him.
“Every now and then he would call me mother,” she said.
The night he visited her in the hospital, just hours before his run-in at the Chokoloskee bridge, he sat on the edge of her hospital bed and they talked. She also had given him one of her credit cards to pick up some things. He brought it back to her hospital room.
“He did not deceive me,” she said.
The major crimes unit of the Sheriff’s Office is currently conducting a death investigation, which will include a toxicology report. The statement from the Sheriff’s Office said Devan Rewis suffered from a “medical episode.”