Former Deputy Warden at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman Sentenced to Prison for Assaulting Inmate
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department announced today that they have completed a thorough, independent investigation into the fatal shooting of Antwun Shumpert on June 18, 2016, by Tupelo Police Department Officer Tyler Cook. This investigation revealed that the evidence is insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Cook violated federal civil rights laws. Accordingly, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department will not pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against Cook.
Officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division met with members of Shumpert’s family today to inform them of this decision.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted a comprehensive, independent review of the circumstances related to Shumpert’s death. The investigation included a review of witness interviews; the autopsy report; crime-scene reports; photographs; surveillance video that recorded auxiliary areas of the crime scene; police radio traffic; incident reports; an interview with the medical examiner; and an interview with the officer.
In conducting the review, federal authorities were tasked with determining whether Cook violated federal law by willfully using unreasonable force against Shumpert. Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute, prosecutors would be required to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived Shumpert of a constitutional right. To establish willfulness, federal authorities would be required to show that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is the highest standard of intent imposed by law. Mistake, misperception, negligence, necessity, or poor judgment are not sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation.
The evidence in this investigation showed that on June 18, 2016, the Tupelo Police Department was conducting a surveillance operation. At around 9:30 at night, officers observed a tan car stop for a short time in a motel parking lot before leaving. Officer Joseph Senter followed the car and noted that it did not properly use a turn signal and was missing a tag light, both of which are traffic violations. Officer Senter signaled to the car to stop, but the car traveled several more blocks before stopping. Immediately after Shumpert stopped the car, he fled on foot. Officer Senter ordered Shumpert to return to the vehicle, but he did not. Officer Senter began chasing Shumpert and radioed for assistance.
Cook was among the officers who responded to Officer Senter’s call for assistance. Cook stopped his car on Harrison Street and got out along with his patrol dog. The patrol dog picked up a scent and led Cook to a ditch behind a house at 916 Harrison Street. The house had a crawl space below it, and Cook saw a hand holding the door shut. Cook reported that he drew his weapon, opened the door to the crawl space, and saw Shumpert. He ordered Shumpert to come out or the dog would bite him, but Shumpert did not emerge. Cook then instructed the dog to bite Shumpert. The dog bit Shumpert on the arm, and Shumpert began punching the dog and grabbing its head. Shumpert escaped the dog by taking off his own shirt—which the dog had hold of—and ran out of the crawl space to tackle Cook.
Cook said he landed a couple of punches on Shumpert before Shumpert forced him to the ground. Once on the ground, Cook said that he was punching with both hands, including the hand that was holding his gun, and may have struck Shumpert with his gun. Cook described Shumpert as being on top of him and striking him in the face multiple times. Cook said that he “tried to fight back but I began to see stars and thought I was going to loose [sic] consciousness and I was in fear for my life.” Cook then remembers shooting his gun three or four times.
Three other officers, none of whom could see the incident, each reported hearing about four gunshots in quick succession. Three civilian witnesses heard the shooting as well, but none saw it. Two officers ran to the scene immediately after the shooting. Radio traffic shows that the officers called for medical support within two minutes of the shooting, and that Shumpert was transported to North Mississippi Medical Center several minutes after that. He died from the gunshot wounds about five hours later.
In this instance, 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. When officers first encountered Shumpert, they attempted to defuse the situation using repeated verbal commands to surrender. Cook also attempted to use non-lethal means, including the patrol dog. It was only when Shumpert punched Cook in the head and Cook feared losing consciousness that he fired his gun.
Based on a legal analysis of the record, the U.S. Attorney and the Civil Rights Division have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to establish that Cook acted with the requisite criminal intent. Therefore, after a careful and thorough review, experienced federal prosecutors have determined that the evidence is insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Cook violated 18 U.S.C. § 242. Accordingly, the review into this incident has been closed without prosecution.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Civil Rights Division, and the FBI are committed to investigating allegations of civil rights violations by law enforcement officers and will continue to devote the resources required to ensure that all allegations of serious civil rights violations are fully and completely investigated. The department will aggressively prosecute criminal civil rights violations whenever there is sufficient evidence to do so.