Southaven officers won’t face charges in Ismael Lopez police shooting

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. — No criminal charges will be filed against two Southaven Police officers involved in the shooting death of a man in his home last year, according to DeSoto County District Attorney John Champion.

Champion said in a news conference Wednesday that he sent a homicide charge against one of the officers to the grand jury over the last month. They chose not to return an indictment.

"From my perspective, the case is closed now at this point," said Champion, who said he was informed of the grand jury's decision last week.

Photo: WREG

Ismael Lopez was shot to death in his home July 23, 2017 when officers, who had been dispatched to serve a warrant at a house across the street, ended up at the wrong address.

According to Lopez family attorney Murray Wells on Wednesday, said the Lopez family was saddened and confused at the news.

This comes almost a year to the day after Ismael Lopez's death and weeks after Champion received Lopez's autopsy from the state crime lab.

Champion said he was given an investigation report by Mississippi Bureau of Investigation in December, but didn't feel it would be complete without an autopsy. That autopsy was delayed by staffing shortages in the state crime lab in Jackson.

Champion said the two-page autopsy report he received was "very poorly written."

Police have said Lopez cracked the door and pointed a rifle at officers when they arrived at the door of his home on Surry Lane. Lopez was in his living room, while his wife was in the bedroom advising him that police were outside, Champion said.

Police first shot a dog who ran out the door. They opened fire on Lopez when he did not lower the weapon, Champion said, but Lopez's attorneys deny that.

Lopez had no warrants.

The two officers involved in Lopez's death have not been identified. Since the shooting, one officer has since resigned from the Southaven Police Department and the other officer is assigned to desk duty.

Champion said only one of the officers fired the weapon. Four shots were fired, and Lopez was hit in the back of the head. Champion said he may have been turning when shot.

The shooting sparked protest against Southaven Police by members of the Latino community.

Pastor Rolando Rostro called the decision Wednesday an "outrage."

"The jurors, bad autopsy report by his own admission, then we have the only people that saw that rifle, that said the rifle was pointed, was the police officers," Rostro said.

"We have a shot at the back of the head. Everything indicates manslaughter, homicide. Yet he (Champion) his washing his hands of this. Shame on the district attorney. Shame on you." 

The Southaven Police Department released a statement saying:

Today's announcement by DeSoto County District Attorney's Office concluded the criminal investigation of Mr. Lopez's death. This investigation has been conducted and reviewed by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, The DeSoto District Attorney and the F.B.I. This case has been reviewed in addition by the U.S. Department of Justice, which cleared the officers of any criminal actions.

The officer who fired at Mr. Lopez left the department to enter the private workforce, and the officer who fired at the dog is still currently on non-enforcement status, but is anticipated to return to full duty within the coming days.

The statement goes on to say that this is a tragic event and the department sends condolences to the Lopez family.

Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite said that police protocol has not changed after the shooting, because the city believes its officers responded appropriately.

"I would like to discuss this in detail with you, but due to the threat of pending litigation it is best that I do not," Musselwhite wrote to a WREG reporter's question.

"This is certainly a tragic event that has been painful for all, including our officers.  I can tell you that there have been no changes in protocol because we believe our officers responded appropriately considering complete circumstances that were presented to them."