TUPELO, Miss. — Federal prosecutors won’t seek civil rights charges against a white Mississippi police officer in the June 2016 fatal shooting of a black man following a foot chase.
In a statement Tuesday , Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Joyner said there’s not enough evidence to prove Tupelo Police Officer Tyler Cook violated the rights of Antwun “Ronnie” Shumpert. Joyner says federal prosecutors can’t meet the high standard of proof to show that Cook acted deliberately and with intent to break the law when he shot Shumpert in the backyard of a Tupelo house.
“There is no reliable evidence to contradict the assertion that Cook fired at Shumpert because he perceived him to be a deadly threat to himself and others,” according to the statement, which noted officers tried to use nonlethal means, including a police dog, to subdue Shumpert. “It was only when Shumpert punched Cook in the head and Cook feared losing consciousness that he fired his gun.”
Shumpert died of injuries at a hospital.
Federal prosecutors and representatives from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division informed Shumpert’s family of the decision Tuesday before announcing it publicly.
Family members maintain the shooting was unjustified. Shumpert family lawyer Carlos Moore said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that “a blind man could see this was excessive force.” He accused federal prosecutors of not doing enough to challenge Cook’s story, but also said he had warned family members that the legal standard for prosecuting a civil rights violation was extraordinarily high.
“They still believed that the Department of Justice would find, as they have found, that it was excessive force and Tyler Cook didn’t have to do what he did,” Moore said.
State grand jurors declined to indict Cook in August. Shumpert’s survivors are suing Tupelo in federal court , seeking $35 million in damages. Moore said the family hopes to prevail there, where the standard of proof will be lower. He also said he hoped to use forensic evidence to prove Cook had no reason to fear for his life.
“Forensic pathologists can tell you who was on top when the shooting was done and that’s all I can say,” Moore said.
The charges roiled race relations in northeast Mississippi’s largest city, with hundreds of people protesting at one point. City officials, protective of Tupelo’s carefully cultivated image as a center of commerce and industry, pushed back against claims of wrongdoing.
“The fact that both entities — the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the FBI — that have investigated this case found insufficient evidence for prosecution of Tyler Cook speaks for itself,” said city spokeswoman Leesha Faulkner.
The Tupelo City Council voted in April to create a police advisory board , saying they hope the panel will improve the relationship between city police and local residents. The board does not have subpoena power and is not charged with investigating police misconduct.
The AP was unable to reach Cook’s lawyer for comment. Cook remains a Tupelo police officer.