A Mississippi jury has ruled against a civil lawsuit filed by the widow of a man who was fatally shot by two police officers serving a warrant at the wrong house.
A federal court jury in Oxford ruled Thursday that Southaven officers Zachary Durden and Samuel Maze had not violated the civil rights of Ismael Lopez when Durden shot him dead in 2017. The verdict came after a four-day trial in which Claudia Linares was seeking $20 million in compensation for the death of her husband.
The city had previously argued that Lopez did not have any civil rights in the first place because the Mexican citizen was living in the United States illegally and faced deportation orders. He also faced criminal charges for illegal possession of firearms.
However, a judge rejected that argument in 2020, stating that the rights listed in the constitution apply to "all persons."
An investigation states that Lopez and Linares had been lying in bed on July 24, 2017, when officers Durden and Maze knocked on the door of their trailer. They intended to serve a domestic violence warrant but got the address mixed up with a neighbor across the street.
Officers told investigators when the door opened, a dog ran out, and Lopez pointed a gun at them through the cracked door. That's when Maze shot the dog and Durden fired multiple shots into the doorway.
A third officer told investigators that he heard the officers order Lopez to drop the firearm several times before opening fire. However, no known video footage exists from the incident.
The 41-year-old Lopez was subsequently struck by a bullet in the back of his head more than 6 feet away from the door. Police said he was attempting to run away.
Lawyers for Lopez have disputed that he ever pointed a gun at officers, noting that his fingerprints and DNA were never found on the weapon. They argued that Lopez was shot because Durden was reacting to his partner firing on the dog.
A state grand jury later declined to indict anyone in the case.
In a statement obtained by the Associated Press, Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite offered condolences to the family of Lopez, but praised the jury's decision to reject the civil lawsuit. He also defended the officers' response to the situation, saying they acted appropriately when being threatened with deadly force.
“This verdict proves what we’ve believed to be correct since day one as our officers responded appropriately considering the circumstance of being threatened with deadly force,” Musselwhite said. "We’ve stood behind them during the last six years for this very reason and, for their sake, are glad this trial is over.”
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