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AG Fitch has resolved few officer-involved shootings

In the year since Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch received exclusive responsibility to prosecute law enforcement-involved shootings, her office has moved forward on only a fraction of the nearly 50 cases. 

To date, Fitch is pursuing charges against six former Rankin County officers who beat and tortured two Black men in January. She has also sought an indictment for the Oct. 6, 2022, shooting of 15-year-old Jaheim McMillan in Gulfport. In three cases, the attorney general’s office reviewed the shootings and found that officers’ actions were justified. 

Since July 1, 2022, when the law went into effect, through the end of July 2023, 23 people have died in shootings by law enforcement, according to records from the Department of Public Safety. Those fatalities account for half of the officer shootings in the year. 

Investigation into these law enforcement agencies starts with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which shares its findings with the attorney general’s office. The attorney general’s office then is supposed to present the case to a grand jury in the county where the shooting happened, and if the jury chooses to indict, the office would prosecute, according to the law. 

Fitch’s prosecution of the five former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies and a former Richland Police Department officer came only after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the officers pleading guilty in federal court. 

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“This brutal attack caused more than physical harm to these two individual victims; it severed that vital trust with the people,” Fitch said in a Thursday statement. “This abuse of power will not be tolerated.”

She added that the men who committed the heinous acts are an exception, rather than the rule, and that most law enforcement officers put their lives on the line to protect the community. 

Meanwhile, the attorney general’s office declined to prosecute three times and did not secure an indictment for one officer-involved shooting case that happened between July 2022 and July 2023. The majority of cases – fatal and nonfatal – remain under investigation by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation or the AG’s office, said spokesperson Debbee Hancock. 

“The Attorney General’s Office is committed to justice in these and all cases, and upon completion of MBI’s investigation, we undertake a thorough review of all facts and law to determine if use of force was appropriate in the individual instance,” Hancock said in a statement. 

The attorney general’s office presented the Oct. 6, 2022, shooting of McMillan to a grand jury, which in February declined to indict and find criminal conduct for the Gulfport police officer who shot the teenager outside a Family Dollar store. 

“As such, no further criminal action will be taken by this Office in this matter,” the office said in a February statement. 

Katrina Mateen has called for answers and accountability for her son’s death following the shooting and since the grand jury ruling, the Sun Herald reported

The attorney general’s office also reviewed the use of force in three cases and declined to prosecute: 

  • July 14, 2022: A Forrest County sheriff’s deputy shot 45-year-old Corey Maurice McCarty Hughes, a Black Hattiesburg man, whose family was trying to get him into mental health treatment.
  • Aug. 22, 2022: A Biloxi police officer shot 41-year-old Mable Arrington, a Black woman, outside a housing complex.
  • Oct. 19, 2022: Lafayette County sheriff’s deputies responding to a domestic call shot 44-year-old Jason Smith in Oxford. Smith argued with a woman and her children were barricaded inside their room, WTVA reported.

Family members of McCarty Hughes, the Hattiesburg man, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against 10 unnamed sheriff’s deputies and the county. 

Other than the January Rankin County incident, there have been no reviews or indictments for the other 18 officer shootings that happened this year. Community members have called for answers and the release of any existing body camera footage in several of those incidents. 

In Indianola, an officer accused of shooting an 11-year-old boy in the chest has been suspended without pay and faces legal action: a $5 million lawsuit against him and the city and potential criminal charges filed by the boy’s mother. 

District attorneys can handle cases of law enforcement officers whose use of force results in death, but these indictments are not common in Mississippi or around the country, especially as officers are legally able to use lethal force if they fear for their lives, Mississippi Today previously reported

However, sometimes officers can face criminal charges for actions while on the job. In May, the Hinds County District Attorney’s office secured indictments against three former Jackson Police Department officers for the death of 41-year-old Keith Murriel. In a federal lawsuit, his family argues the officers used excessive force and failed to render medical aid.

And in a rare twist, Fitch is at odds with the Hinds County DA’s office, urging a reversal in the culpable negligence manslaughter conviction of Anthony Fox, a former Jackson police officer convicted a year ago in the 2019 death of George Robinson.

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