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.