TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — Two-and-a-half weeks after a white police officer fatally shot a black man here, the mayor of Tupelo defended his city and police department, saying a lawyer for the dead man's family is misleading the public.
Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton on Wednesday pushed back on claims about Antwun "Ronnie" Shumpert's death, laying out city officials' version of the June 18 shooting.
"While we remain committed to preserving the integrity of the independent investigation, we also believe there has been a deliberate attempt to mislead the public through false statements, half-truths, unsubstantiated rumors and fear-mongering," Shelton said.
Shumpert's family sued the city last week in federal court, demanding $35 million in damages.
On Wednesday, Shumpert family lawyer Carlos Moore called for a federal civil rights investigation into Tupelo Police Department practices, claiming there is a pattern of racial bias.
What's uncontested is that Tupelo Officer Tyler Cook shot Shumpert after a police dog found him hiding under a house following a police chase.
According to the mayor, Shumpert was shot because he attacked Cook, and the officer feared for his life.
Shelton said that a police officer was following a car driven by Shumpert after witnessing it make a brief stop at a motel being watched for evidence of drug dealing. The mayor said Shumpert didn't pull over, then ran from the car.
Shelton said Cook responded to the scene with a police dog, which led him to Shumpert's hiding spot under a house. Shumpert moved further under the house and Cook sent the dog in pursuit, Shelton said.
The mayor said Cook told investigators that Shumpert punched the dog and took off his shirt to escape the dog's grip, tackling Cook as he emerged from under the house. Shumpert then "viciously" beat the officer, according to Shelton.
"Fearing for his own life, Officer Cook discharged his service weapon four times to stop the assault," Shelton said.
Shelton's comments contrast with statements by Moore, who has said Shumpert had no history of violence and was rightfully defending himself against the police dog. Moore also suggested that the officer faked his injuries.
"All men are created equal and Tyler Cook had no right to be judge, jury and executioner," Moore said.
Shumpert's family has no trust in the mayor because of his statements that the officer was justified in his use of force, the lawyer added.
Moore explicitly linked the case to the Louisiana death of Alton Sterling, and the shadow of other police shootings nationwide is hanging over Tupelo.
Tupelo city officials, protective of the city's carefully cultivated image as a center of commerce and industry, said they needed to take aggressive action to tell their story.
"I don't want our city to be another Ferguson," said Tupelo City Councilwoman Nettie Davis, who is African-American.
Davis said the police department has had problems historically, pointing to a 2008 report, but that the mayor's comments should not be discarded. Some critics, she said, "have all this bitterness in them and they're just blinded to the truth."
Shelton said his version draws from the statements of Cook and other officers, as well as an examination of some physical evidence.
He said an inquiry by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation would be definitive and said he hoped the agency would move quickly.
"It does concern me that there are individuals who state vocal opposition to the city of Tupelo," he said.
Some African-American ministers walked out of a meeting with city officials, telling WTVA-TV that Tupelo needs a civilian police review board with subpoena power.
Shelton said city officials were considering that proposal, but that he was unhappy that the ministers and others aren't willing to consider what he has to say.
City of Tupelo documents on Schumpert shooting: http://bit.ly/29zTVZ6
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