Homeless shelter resident charged with felony assault at temporary shelter

Mark Hayward, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester
·2 min read

Mar. 18—A homeless Manchester man was arrested on a felony assault charge after allegedly causing a serious eye injury to a fellow resident of the city's temporary homeless shelter, according to Manchester police.

Police said they arrested Joseph Lewis, 38, on Wednesday, the day after being called to the shelter for an assault. Police dispatch logs place the call a little after 8 p.m.

Lewis is one of the more prominent homeless people in the city, standing nearly 7 feet tall. In interactions with reporters in the past, he has been soft spoken and said he was born in the Caribbean. A call to his lawyer was not immediately returned.

The victim is 52 years old.

The shelter is located at the former Manchester police station at the corner of Chestnut and Merrimack streets.

The assault took place a little over a month after shelter resident Jean Lascelle, 67, was shot in the head and killed by another shelter resident while standing on the outside steps smoking a cigarette.

At the time, the organization that operates the shelter, Families in Transition, said it was reviewing its security guidelines.

This week, FiT announced it was ceasing operations at the winter shelter the end of this month. The organization operates two other shelters — the New Horizons shelter at 199 Manchester St. and Angie's Place on Union Street.

FiT opened the shelter last year as an overflow shelter for only the winter months.

It's unknown what effect the killing and assault will have on the homeless population, especially as the weather turns warmer and several consider returning to outside life. Many have said they do not like the shelter and cite safety as one reason.

In a statement on Thursday, FiT spokesman Kyle Chumas said "the safety of our participants and staff is always at the forefront of our continued work."

"Our team works closely with Manchester police and first responders whenever there is a critical incident onsite," Chumas said. "Protocols are in place for any emergency. Our staff is trained to meet the need of a vulnerable population and quickly respond to various situations that may arise ... our facilities continue to be a trustworthy and valuable resource to individuals experiencing homelessness."

In a court affidavit, Manchester police said a video surveillance camera shows David Oberheim, 52, entering a bathroom right behind Lewis. Oberheim opens the door to leave, and Lewis then kicks him, sending him down the hallway.

Oberheim turns to Lewis, and Lewis punches him in the eyeball.

Oberheim told police he agreed to leave the bathroom, and after Lewis kicked him, he turned to ask why he did so. At that point, Lewis punched him with a haymaker. After falling to the ground, Lewis wrapped his legs around him.

Lewis told police that his actions were the results of a seizure.

At Elliot Hospital, doctors said Oberheim suffered from a sheared cornea and his pupil was in danger of rupturing.