No indictment for officers who killed man while serving warrant at wrong house
SOUTHAVEN, MS (WMC) - The grand jury declined to indict the officers who shot and killed a man when they served a warrant at the wrong house.
Ismael Lopez was shot and killed by police while he stood inside the front door of his Southaven home in July 2017.
District Attorney John Champion said he took the case to a grand jury in an effort to indict the officers on homicide charges. Champion failed to get the grand jury to return an indictment.
"The grand jury was given all of the evidence and they decided not to indict," Champion said. "From my perspective, the case is closed at this point."
"Everything about this is wrong. I am outraged. Shame, shame on the police department, shame on the DA. Mr. Champion, shame on you. You need to retire," Pastor Rolando Rostro, Lopez family advocate, said.
Champion said a Mississippi Bureau of Investigation agent testified at the grand jury hearing. He said the officers in question did not testify.
When asked if he thought the officers committed second-degree murder, Champion avoided giving a direct answer.
"My personal opinion doesn't matter," Champion said.
Champion said the autopsy that he received in June 2018 was poorly done. He briefly talked about the ongoing problem of delayed autopsies in Mississippi, and he implied that Lopez's autopsy was not thorough.
He said most autopsies are 10 or more pages, but Lopez's autopsy was just two or three pages.
"There's nothing in it honestly," Champion said.
However, when asked if he informed the grand jury of his reservations about the autopsy, he said he did not.
Champion did say that the autopsy showed that Lopez was shot in the back of the head. This is what Lopez's attorney has been saying for nearly a year.
Southaven Police Department admitted officers went to the wrong house that night. They were trying to serve a warrant for domestic assault to Samuel Pearman, who lives 36 feet away from Lopez's home.
Officers said Lopez came to the door and pointed a gun at them. The officers yelled repeatedly for Lopez to put the gun down.
Three officers were at the scene, but only one of them opened fire. That officer fired six total shots--two at a dog that ran out of Lopez's house toward the officers and four into the house. The bullets went through Lopez's front door; one hit him in the back of the head. Lopez's dog was grazed by a bullet.
"I do not believe [the officers] identified themselves at the door," Champion said.
According to Champion, the autopsy found that Lopez died from a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.
Champion said Lopez was pulling the gun away from the direction of the officers when the officers opened fire. He said he did not want to speculate about how it happened, but he thought Lopez could have been shot in the back of the head while he turned away from the officers.
Champion said there was no body camera or dash camera video from the incident.
Lopez's attorney said he plans to file a civil lawsuit against Southaven Police Department. He plans to hold a press conference about this case Thursday afternoon.
In Lopez's neighborhood, everyone knew him or his family.
"Like every time our cars didn't work, he was the one who fixed them," neighbor Pablo Jurez said.
Lopez's death in July 2017 shook this community to its core.
Hearing the officer who fired the fatal shot won't face charges is not the outcome neighbor Johnny Lee Swinford expected a year later.
"It's too heartbreaking for the people that know them and their families," he said.
Neighbor J.C. Collins thinks Southaven residents deserve "a better justice system." The officers and the grand jury, he said, failed the Lopez family.
Angelica Jiminez said Lopez had a gun that night because he and others in the neighborhood worried about being robbed. She feared a Latino victim would get no sympathy.
"She said they're Mexican, they can't do anything. They can't do justice for what they did," Jurez translated for Jiminez.
Neighbors hope Ismael Lopez & his family have better luck in civil court.
"I hope there is some justice for him. [Of] course that won't bring him back," Collins said.
Wednesday after the press conference, Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite's office released the following statement:
Recently, Desoto County District Attorney John Champion stated that the Grand Jury returned a “No True Bill” which means that a decision by the citizens of Desoto County was made to not indict any of the Southaven Police officers involved in this incident. With completion of investigations by his office, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Department of Justice, the City of Southaven believes that the facts of this matter have been properly and sufficiently evaluated, and therefore considers this matter concluded.
It has been very disheartening to watch the persecution of our officers by some both prematurely and inaccurately. A picture painted with partial and inaccurate information is easy to create and very influential when strategically circulated through media avenues, but can be very misleading and dangerous to those that value the truth.
This incident was a very tragic event and our thoughts and prayers remain with all parties involved.
The Southaven Police Department also released the following statement from Chief Steven Pirtle:
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