Family 'dumbfounded' as shooting death suit dismissed

2017-11-07 16:28
An attorney for Antwun 'Ronnie' Shumpert holds photographs of Tupelo police officer Tyler Cook. (Rogelio V Solis, AP, file)

An attorney for Antwun 'Ronnie' Shumpert holds photographs of Tupelo police officer Tyler Cook. (Rogelio V Solis, AP, file)

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Jackson - A US federal judge on Monday dismissed a civil lawsuit that sought $35m in damages from a Mississippi city and a white police officer in the disputed 2016 shooting death of a black man, leaving his relatives "dumbfounded".

US District Judge Sharion Aycock ruled that the relatives of the man, Antwun "Ronnie" Shumpert, hadn't presented enough proof against the northeast Mississippi city of Tupelo or Officer Tyler Cook to move forward to trial.

She wrote that there was little or no proof that proof that Cook acted improperly in shooting Shumpert or proof that Tupelo failed to properly train Cook.

Carlos Moore, a lawyer for the family, said he will appeal Cook's dismissal to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, adding a jury should get a chance to hear the evidence in the case.

"The Shumpert family is dumbfounded," Moore said of the latest development in the case, which had roiled the city's race relations and prompted protests by hundreds at one point after the death.

"They're shocked; they're saddened by Judge Aycock's order of dismissal."

No criminal charges

Shumpert ran from a traffic stop on the night of June 18, 2016, and Cook joined the search for Shumpert, accompanied by a police dog.

The dog led Cook to the rear of a house where the officer has said he saw a hand sticking out from a crawl space. The dog eventually flushed Shumpert out, when Cook says the fugitive tackled him.

Cook says he shot Shumpert four times as the officer began to lose consciousness while Shumpert punched him in the face.

Shumpert died from his wounds at a hospital.

Federal and state prosecutors both had ruled out criminal charges against Cook, despite claims by Shumpert's relatives that the shooting was unjustified.

One of Shumpert's relatives swore in a federal court affidavit that he got an anonymous phone call claiming Cook shot Shumpert as he was surrendering.

Moore commissioned a separate autopsy on behalf of the family, which he said showed Cook was on top of Shumpert for one for one of the shots.

The federal judge, though, said there was no proof that the unknown caller actually knew anything about the shooting, and said the question of what position Cook was in doesn't raise enough doubt on whether Cook used excessive force.

'Pleased'

Thus, Aycock said, the officer is legally immune from a lawsuit.

"Cook's actions, even if they may not be beyond all bounds of criticism and reproach, fall well within the bounds prescribed by the qualified immunity doctrine," Aycock wrote.

The shooting sparked protests that rocked Tupelo, the largest city in northeast Mississippi.

City officials, long protective of Tupelo's carefully cultivated image as a centre of commerce and industry, city created a police advisory board last April with limited powers.

Cook remains employed by the Tupelo Police Department.

The officer's lawyer, Jason Herring, wrote in an email on Monday evening that he and the officer were "very pleased with the Court's ruling," adding "it is good to finally bring this matter to a conclusion" after what Herring described as an "arduous process".

Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton said the lawsuit's dismissal, coming after federal prosecutors refused to bring charges against Cook and a state grand jury declined to indict him, will help restore trust.

"I'm hopeful it will give us all the opportunity to put this behind us and be more unified and work together," Shelton said.

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