Cops Go To Wrong House, Kill Innocent Man, Receive A Free Pass From Local Grand Jury

from the so-much-for-the-vaunted-prosecutorial-railroad dept

A grand jury will indict a ham sandwich.

The corollary, of course, is “if that’s what the prosecutor wants.” And prosecutors rarely want their ham sandwiches indicted.

An unarmed man shot in the stomach by Officer Sarah Stumler of the Louisville Metro Police recently discovered the corollaries of this truism still hold, even if the city is giving the victim $1.8 million in taxpayer cash to settle his lawsuit.

There’s another lawsuit underway over the killing of Ismael Lopez by a Mississippi police officer. The Southaven Police Department obtained a warrant but went to the wrong address, shot at Lopez’s dogs, and apparently shot him after encountering him carrying a gun. The link between these is the failure to process the ham.

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.”

The jury has spoken, I guess. When prosecutors want to obtain an indictment, they almost always get it. If they don’t, it’s an anomaly. The prosecutor controls the indictment process, so it’s as easy to steer jurors away from an indictment as it is towards one. The process isn’t adversarial, so any failure to obtain an indictment is… um… an indictment of the prosecutor’s mindset.

This alone would be questionable if that were the only thing. But it isn’t. The PD has never identified the officer who killed Lopez after entering a house they had no business being in. The family’s lawyer apparently knows who it is, but this was acquired through a leak, not the PD itself.

And there’s so much more that doesn’t add up. Radley Balko’s post does a great job bullet-pointing all the holes in the police narrative. Here are just a few of them:

The police claim Lopez was killed because he pointed his gun at them, even after they repeatedly announced themselves. Yet only one of the officers fired his gun at Lopez. If Lopez did indeed present a deadly threat, why didn’t the other officers fire?

According to the autopsy report, Lopez was shot in the back of the head. That isn’t impossible to square with the police narrative, but it certainly calls it into question.


According to Lopez’s attorney, two neighbors heard the raid, and neither heard the police announce themselves. One was a next-door neighbor whose window was open.

Lopez’s body was found several feet from the door, in a separate room.

Buying into the police narrative doesn’t help much. According to their own statements, cops went to the wrong house, shot at the owner’s dogs, and then shot the homeowner when he appeared at the door carrying a gun. The police shot through the door, so the narrative also includes something about Lopez poking his gun out through a crack in the door, as if that were enough to justify deadly force. But if he was shoving a gun through his cracked-open door, how did he get shot in the back of the head?

Balko points out the mayor of the city is smugly celebrating this non-indictment and blaming the media for making a horrible-looking situation look bad.

After the grand jury announcement, the district attorney, Champion, at least seemed somewhat chastened. Not so for Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite, who took the opportunity to gloat a bit in a press statement.

“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.”

A bunch of misleading stuff the mayor refuses to discuss because of the ongoing lawsuit. Convenient. He had a chance to set the record straight, but decided he would rather snipe at the media before declaring he would not be taking questions from said media.

Even if some of the facts got distorted, the undisputed facts are still problematic. The PD refused to release the name of the officer to the family. The city refused to apologize or offer to fix the damage caused by officers when they raided the wrong house during a domestic assault call. The autopsy report on Lopez took a year to complete and was, at best, lousy: three pages, minimally-detailed, when most autopsy reports run at least 10 pages. (Even the prosecutor who failed to get an indictment seemed underwhelmed by the report: “There’s nothing in it, honestly.”)

This did at least give the family something to work with in its lawsuit: Lopez was shot in the back of the head — something that seems unlikely at best when compared to the police narrative.

All in all, it’s just another day in the land of zero police accountability. An officer “feared for their safety” after putting an innocent person into a dangerous situation by going to the wrong address and opening fire on the family pets. With those four simple words, cops can kill innocent people and deprive their survivors of recourse. A subjective feeling is usually enough to secure qualified immunity and the mere presence of a gun anywhere a cop might be (in the land of legal gun ownership) is enough to justify any force deployed. The police continue to fuck up and the public continues to pay the price, both with their lives and their tax dollars.

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Comments on “Cops Go To Wrong House, Kill Innocent Man, Receive A Free Pass From Local Grand Jury”

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Gary (profile) says:

One Way Street

I was going to say something about how over 90% of cases brought to Grant Jury resulted in prosecutions – with the reverse being true if cops were being indicted.

But those numbers sounded ridiculous, so I looked up some links. I was wildly underestimating. 11 cases in 160,000 grand juries doesn’t result in indictment. Unless it involves police, then around 1% are indicted. (Very rough numbers, feel free to your own searches, I’m have to get back to work.)

ShadowNinja (profile) says:

Re: Re: One Way Street

Better yet, there should be a special prosecutor for indicting and prosecuting police officers.

We have special prosecutors for investigating and prosecuting members of the President’s administration because of clear conflicts of interest (the DOJ is a part of the President’s administration, and led by their appointees), we should do the same for bringing bad police officers and departments to justice.

Prosecutors often have clear conflicts of interest prosecuting cops because they need the cops testimony in plenty of other cases they’re prosecuting to secure a conviction. A great way to lose their testimony/cooperation in those cases is to prosecute the cops. Even if the cop still cooperates with you, it provides a field day for the defense by damaging the cop’s credibility, especially if the cop was caught lying to cover up their crimes.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: 11 cases in 160,000

Every defense lawyer in every criminal case in the US should lead with these statistics. Also that 90% of criminal cases lead to conviction, and there are neither means of confirmation or remedy for false conviction. And that the US leads the world in rate of incarceration.

Every criminal judge should be losing sleep every single night knowing they’re part of a system that presses warm bodies into the pits of living Hell that are the US penal systems.

Incarceration in the US isn’t justice by any sense. It’s false prosecution followed by captivity and slavery for profit. It’s cruelty in the color of law.

We should never let any of the participants in this system forget this.

Anonymous Coward says:

the mere presence of a gun anywhere a cop might be (in the land of legal gun ownership)

True, yet off-base in a couple of senses. First, cops routinely get away with misidentifying clearly-not-a-gun objects as a gun, declaring the not-a-gun a threat, and then using deadly force. Second, in states where legal gun ownership is comparatively rare (onerous permitting requirements, expensive registration, etc.), cops will still feel threatened because "illegal guns are everywhere"; "it’s easy to for a criminal to get a gun"; etc. And since they’re supposedly interacting with an alleged criminal, they go in expecting to meet an illegal gun, which just supports their bias that they’re obviously walking into a deadly situation.

Bruce says:

Re: Re:

They do not feel threatened. Claiming they feared for their lives is only true in the extremely rare instances where the police themselves are cornered by active shooters, and they don’t spew those words as an excuse in such cases, as the event speaks for itself.

Same with shooting dogs: In reality, they only “fear for their lives” if and when they’ve first ensured the targets are in no way a threat. If police believe there may be return-fire or that a dog will in fact make a mad dash for their neck, they refuse to enter the premises, such as in the case of a certain Vegas hotel or a certain Parkland school. Meanwhile, they’ve “feared for their lives” against puppies in locked cages, and against men in their underwear crawling on the ground with their hands up.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Police generally win gunfights.

I think what Improbus is suggesting is that innocent people will begin responding to cops with violence, out of fear for their lives.

I don’t think he’s talking about the kind of premeditation you’re talking about; I think he’s suggesting a situation like this one where the police come to somebody’s door, or pull them over.

christenson says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes and no….

Like most humans, we panic when we lose someone in a dramatic way… like being shot by a cop!

But statistically, that doesn’t happen too often…in an average year:
about 1,000 shot and killed by cops per year
about 9,000 others shot and killed in anger, but that’s not news, unless it’s Chicago last weekend.
about 20,000 shoot themselves and succeed in suicide.
about 30,000 die in car accidents, 100K crippled in some way.
about 50-60,000 will die this year of opiate overdose, many started the opiates medically.

And at this point, I’d say you want to control your encounters with the cops…they can be as nervous as bank robbers, spend effort calming them down.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 20,000 shoot themselves and succeed in suicide.

Another 20K commit suicide using means other than guns.

It’s of particular interest since, if studies of survived terrorists and rampage killers are to inform, they are essentially angry suicide, choosing to go out in a blaze of rage rather than a quiet whimper.

That is to say, services and facilities that reduce suicides also reduce rampages.

Christenson says:

Re: Re: Re:3 20,000 shoot themselves and succeed in suicide.

Suicide by firearm almost always results in death.
Suicide by other means is usually survived. There have been multiple people in my life that have done this.

And yes, terrorists and rampagers are angry…why do I think that describes the police, too???

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Suicide by other means is usually survived.

So you’re saying suicide attempts are a significantly greater number greater than the 40K who actually die. (42,773 deaths in 2014)

All the more reason mental heath should be a greater concern in the US.

Given this is the alt-right era, it’s a wonder that the White House hasn’t outright endorsed suicide (or KYS) in as a means to reduce the US population of losers and poor people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The point of the article is not about the risk of being shot by a cop, but rather the lack of cops being held to account for their behavior. That is a danger to society because if they are not held to account they will take advantage of that to increase their predation on society. That is the path to anarchy, as people prepared to use violence against those they disagree with will gang together to protect themselves and everybody else from the cops, and then say to everybody else “Hey we are protecting you so pay us or else”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Look at it this way… the US has about 325m citizens. Let’s round up to 365m for easy math.

If one citizen is mistakenly shot and killed per day, that would be 0.000001% of the population.

Compared to the number of vehicular-related deaths per day, that’s nothing, and says nothing about whether the USA is a safe country to live in.

Also, previous studies have shown that “safe” depends on a number of factors, including your country of origin, the color of your skin, your wealth, where you are located, and what sort of social network you have.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Maybe there's something to be said...

That might give the police more reasons to be fearful.

We don’t need them fearful, we need them respectful. Respectful of the laws they were hired to enforce, and the citizens they were hired to enforce those laws for. Since the Supreme Court says they don’t HAVE to protect us, then they should be serving us, and not acting as judge, jury, and executioner.

Whiskey Creek says:

Re: Re: Maybe there's something to be said...

A 2012 Georgia case illustrates the traditional rule that it’s sometimes okay to resist arrest with force. An officer had been investigating the firing of shots in or around an apartment building. Outside, he saw a young man wearing a hoodie heading for the building. The officer approached and expressed his desire to speak with the youth, who in turn muttered and kept right on his way. The officer quickened his approach; the youngster began to run toward the building. The young man ran up the stairs and eventually tripped. The officer pounced on and “arm-barred” him in order to apply handcuffs. The arrestee struggled to escape, “kicking his legs about and throwing his elbows back and forth.”

Georgia’s Court of Appeals focused on that fact that the struggle between officer and suspect occurred after the attempted arrest. To the court, the arrest for supposed obstruction had no basis. Because that arrest was unlawful, the young man “was justified in resisting the attempted arrest with all force that was reasonably necessary to do so.” (Ewumi v. State, 315 Ga. App. 656 (2012).)

That One Guy (profile) says:

All animals are equal. Some animals are more equal than others.

Shoot the dogs.

Shoot someone in the back of his head

Claim that the police ‘feared for their lives’ from a person that was facing away from them.

Grand jury: ‘Nothing worth prosecution happened here.’

Does anyone for so much as a second think that if the one killed had been a cop at their own house, with their dogs killed, the shooter would have been given a ‘you did nothing wrong’ pass?

Bruce says:

Re: All animals are equal. Some animals are more equal than others.

It is worth noting that the prosecution, or even police departments themselves, can choose not to release things such as videos of the event and other evidence until after the officers have been cleared.

It is entirely possible – and quite common – for the only information given to the grand jury to be the officers own testimony, along with vague statements that “the evidence has shown to support their claims”. The stonewalling only ends once the release of such information no longer poses a threat due to double-jeopardy.

Prosecutors have publicly admitted they would not charge police unless they were certain it would result in acquittal, such as the slipup statement to the press(december 2016 I believe?) in the Justine Damond case.

Personanongrata says:

One Key Man is Worth a Dozen Ham Sandwiches

The jury has spoken, I guess. When prosecutors want to obtain an indictment, they almost always get it. If they don’t, it’s an anomaly.

Or, it could be a Mississippi variation on what is known as the key man system that is in play?

Italicized/bold text below was excerpted from the website a report authored by the ever illustrious Mr. Balko titled Houston grand juries: too white, too law-and-order, and too cozy with cops

As it turns out, isn’t it all uncommon for former cops, former prosecutors, and members of the law enforcement community to serve on grand juries in Texas. It isn’t even uncommon for active police to serve on them. Clay Conrad is a Texas criminal defense attorney. He’s currently challenging the indictment of one of his client on the grounds that the way Harris County grand juries are selected is inherently biased. “It happens all the time,” Conrad says. “They love to pack grand juries with former police officers.

In a 2004 study, University of Houston criminologist Larry Karson found plenty of evidence to support key-man critics. Karson looked at grand commissioners selected in Harris County 2002 and 2003 (the latter being the year Brown was indicted). It found that of the 129 people to serve as commissioners (again, these are the people who pick the grand juries), more than half were employed in some way by the criminal justice system. Two of the commissioners were former prosecutors. Incredibly, one was a sitting judge on the state appellate court “responsible for reviewing appeals from the very district court judge that she nominated grand jury candidates for.” Another 11 commissioners worked for the county’s probation office. Six more were retired law enforcement officers.

But while police officers do sometimes get indicted for crimes like dealing drugs or taking bribes, indictments for excessive force or officer-involved shootings are much rarer. In its story on the simulators, the A.P. noted that the state is currently in the midst of “a streak of nearly 300 cases in which grand juries have cleared Houston police officers in shootings.” That includes a case last year in which a grand jury declined to indict a cop who shot and killed a wheelchair-bound double amputee who was armed with only a pen.

“They pick and condition these grand juries to be sympathetic to cops,” Gutheinz says. “So when a controversial police shooting comes up, they can present the case to a faceless, unaccountable grand jury with no recommendation. The grand jury no-bills, the cop gets off, and the prosecutor doesn’t have to face any consequences.”

The key man system allows a prosecutor an easy out when pretending to hold law enforcement accountable by claiming to have presented the case to a grand jury but the grand jury failed to indict.

Anonymous Coward says:

how can people allow this to happen? dont they realise that they could be next? there can be no excuse for any of them failing to indict a police officer for committing such a heinous ‘crime’, just as there cant be any excuse for the police officer for committing such a heinous crime! it seems to me that each police officer has got to shoot and likely kill someone just to be part of a club. how can anyone, unless mentally disturbed, want to do that? do they have such a low regard for life that killing someone, especially for no reason, means nothing to them? is it more important to commit this deed, be part of the club what can only now be classed as legal murderers, than preserve life unless there is no alternative? what is happening in this country?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Once those in positions of authority place themselves above the law, they are quick to remind us (daily in fact) that whatever problems we may have, going through their legal channels is the only proper way, and that violence is never, ever, ever the answer.

The reason for this is historically clear: Once they’ve installed themselves in this fashion, such groups and parties are only ever displaced by violent revolution down the line. The longer they can delay this, the more dis-empowered the population is, the higher the cost to the population to try and remove them, and the more likely they are to have several generations of such absolute rule entirely unopposed.
But whatever happens, “we must not” stoop as low as they we’re told, because that would be wrong, bad, illegal, and anyone even thinking of rebellion must be snitched to the authorities and under no circumstances listened to instead. Otherwise we risk not becoming like such ‘wonderful countries’ with “strong leaders” like the people’s “democratic republic” of korea.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“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.”

A picture painted by the victors often shows them as noble, kind, generous even… when the truth is they rounded up all the undesirables, murdered them, & stole all their stuff.
Very misleading is the fact y’all are paying 1.8 million to avoid having to explain how the innocent victim was shot in the back of the head. Why your officers can not read arabic numerals. Why they needed to execute the dogs before contacting the occupant of the house. Why they thought that hearing gunfire a citizen with a weapon, might be afraid for his life & might even fire on the threat… but because he lacked a badge he doesn’t get a pass. You blame the victim for the complete failure of your department to read numbers, follow the law & policies, and allow them to outright lie about how an innocent person was killed because the cops behaved like a gang murdering his pets & charging his house with weapons.

If the DOJ didn’t suck so bad, it would be nice to see a special division of lawyers who only handle presenting cases to grand juries. Someone who doesn’t pander to the locals & explain how sometimes its okay to murder citizens because you have a badge & you were scared by a shadow. Someone with no connection to the community but held to presenting the facts of the case and getting the outcome.

The entire justice system is fucked, how many more people have to die under ‘interesting’ circumstances with cops never being held to account b/c they can invoke ‘I was scared’ as a viable defense. Would a grand jury accept that answer from a driver pulled over by what might have been a cop car but there had been a series of robberies by someone pretending to be a cop?? Or would the outcry from the cops, union, prosecutors drown out the driver firing because they were scared.

Anonymous Coward says:

So basically the cops decided AGAIN to execute someone because they either weren’t white or the guy was one of their drug runners and was going to turn states evidence against them?

Hell the UK police have done the same, when they executed Charles Menendez because they thought he was one of their mules that was turning against them. That particular order came from the head of the london police. Ensure he’s dead. shoot him in the head multiple times.

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