JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Grand jurors on Monday cleared a northeast Mississippi police officer of wrongdoing in a June 18 shooting that left a man dead, but relatives rejected that finding, saying they're looking to a federal investigation and a civil lawsuit for justice.
District Attorney John Weddle announced Monday that a Lee County grand jury declined to indict Tupelo Officer Tyler Cook in the shooting of Antwun "Ronnie" Shumpert. An autopsy found Shumpert was shot four times after he ran from a traffic stop and a police officer and police dog found him hiding under a house.
"The grand jury found Officer Tyler Cook acted lawfully and has cleared Officer Cook of any wrongdoing," Weddle said.
Cook is white. Shumpert, who died of his wounds at a hospital, was black.
Shumpert's family members have said the shooting was unjustified, seeking $35 million in damages in a federal lawsuit against the city. They've also called for a federal civil rights investigation into Shumpert's death and the broader practices of the Tupelo Police Department. The charges have roiled race relations in northeast Mississippi's largest city — hundreds of people seeking changes in the city's police department protested Saturday in Tupelo.
"All the evidence was right there, and you overlook it," said Peggy Shumpert, his widow, at a Monday evening news conference outside the courthouse where Weddle earlier briefed reporters. "Tyler Cook gets a chance to go back and be with his loved ones when my husband is in the grave and you call it justified!"
Lawyer Carlos Moore said Shumpert's family was scheduled to meet with the FBI Monday to discuss what federal investigators are doing. FBI spokesman Brett Carr did not respond to a request for comment.
Weddle refuted claims by Shumpert's family and Moore that Shumpert had suffered improper violence at the hands of Cook and a police dog.
"There are no wounds described in the autopsy that are consistent with a dog bite," Weddle said in a news conference at the Lee County Justice Center.
Weddle said physical evidence showed Shumpert was shot four times at close range, consistent with Cook's version of events that Shumpert had emerged from under a house and beat the officer, leading Cook to shoot Shumpert when the officer feared for his life.
Weddle also said evidence showed Shumpert had not been bitten in the groin by Cook's police dog, saying that was a gunshot wound. He also said cuts on Shumpert's back came from efforts to remove the bullets and were not seen in pictures taken at the scene.
Moore and family members disputed authorities' version of events, again suggesting that Cook had faked his injuries and saying witnesses saw him acting jovially after the shooting.
Moore also said that an unidentified witness had called family members saying he saw the struggle and disputed Cook's version of events. Moore said the unknown person had said he'd call back only when it was safe and urged him to contact the FBI.
The version of events compiled by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and recited by Weddle mirrors an account given last month by Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton, who has been a particular target of ire by Moore and the Shumpert family.
Shelton expressed sympathy for the Shumpert family Monday but said he hoped "all citizens will join in respecting the decision" of grand jurors.
"We are committed to the hard work that is ahead of us and will continue meeting with community leaders to move forward," Shelton said, but said he isn't ready to commit to any particular changes protesters have sought.
Moore pledged he would work against the re-election of Shelton, leading the mayor to shoot back on Twitter that "political intimidation" wouldn't affect the civil lawsuit against the city.
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