By WILLIAM MOORE / Daily Journal
TUPELO – A lawsuit was officially filed in federal court Thursday alleging wrongful death and constitutional violations in the June 18 shooting of a local man by a Tupelo Police Department officer after a foot chase.
Grenada attorney Carlos Moore filed the civil lawsuit Thursday afternoon in Aberdeen on behalf of Peggy Shumpert, the widow of Antwun “Ronnie” Shumpert, and Charles Foster. The lawsuit asks the city of Tupelo to pay $35 million.
Shumpert was shot and killed by a Tupelo Police Department officer on June 18 after a routine traffic stop turned into a foot chase and alleged altercation between the Tupelo man, TPD officer and a K-9 unit. Foster is the owner of the car and was a passenger when the car was stopped.
On Monday, Moore demanded that the city fire the officer, whom Moore identified as Tyler Cook, by Thursday at 3 p.m. or he would file suit.
Federal court documents show the case was filed in the Northern District of Mississippi at 1:42 p.m., more than an hour before Moore’s deadline.
The 11-page complaint lists Mayor Jason Shelton, Police Chief Bart Aguirre, Cook and 10 John Does as defendants. The suit claims assault and battery; violations of due process, equal dignity and equal protection rights; excessive force; and wrongful death.
City attorney Ben Logan would neither confirm nor deny that Cook was the officer involved, but the city sent a photo Friday morning of Cook, showing him being treated in an ambulance an hour after the incident. Cook is on paid administrative leave until the criminal investigation is completed.
The suit alleges that the unarmed Shumpert was attacked by a K-9 while trying to surrender himself to police.
“Mr. Shumpert tried to defend himself against the unlawful, excessive, and vicious attack of the K9,” the suit alleges. “While trying to defend himself against total annihilation by the K9, Officer Tyler Cook approached the unarmed Shumpert and shot him four times, three times to the chest and once in the abdomen.”
TPD has claimed that Shumpert was shot after he attacked the officer and the police dog.
Citing the ongoing criminal investigation by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations, the city has released few details of the case, including the reason Shumpert was initially stopped at the corner of Van Buren and Harrison streets around 9:30 at night.
Moore claims the initial traffic stop “was not lawful as no probable cause existed for the stop.”
Additionally, Shelton and Aguirre are alleged to have allowed constitutional violations to flourish “due to patterns, policies, practices and/or customs of the city of Tupelo.”
Citing a 2008 ethics study that was discredited by then Mayor Ed Neelly, Moore has made allegations of widespread corruption and racial profiling by the Tupelo Police Department.
“The police shot Ronnie four or five times,” Moore said. “It was a modern-day lynching. It was simply an execution.”
While Moore said he would start subpoenaing documents as soon as Friday, he may have to wait. Since there is a criminal investigation into the incident that sparked the federal civil lawsuit, the city can ask for the federal suit to be stayed. That would put the family’s lawsuit on indefinite hold until the criminal side is completed.
MBI spokesman Warren Strain announced last week that Federal Bureau of Investigation agents “are monitoring the Shumpert case but not actively investigating.”
During a rally Thursday night that drew more than 600 to a Tupelo church, Moore said he plans to ask U.S. Attorney Felicia Adams to have the Department of Justice open its own civil rights investigation into the case.
After filing the federal lawsuit, Moore mailed the city a notice of claims, which is required before he can file a similar lawsuit in the state court system. He said he will file the state lawsuit after the 90-day notice period has expired.
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