MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Mississippi Bureau of Investigation report reveals new details in the 2017 shooting death of Ismael Lopez at the hands of two Southaven, Mississippi police officers.
Lawyers for Lopez’s family held a news conference Thursday, and said there was information in the report that conflicted with officers’ statements.
“We are prepared to move forward with action against the city of Southaven and the officers individually,” attorney Murray Wells said.
The report identifies the officers involved in the shooting as Zachary Durden, 29, who had been employed by Southaven Police since December of 2015, and Samuel Maze, 29, who had been employed since May 2015. Officer Thomas Jones was also at the scene.
According to officer testimony in the report, the three were dispatched around midnight on July 24, 2017 to 5878 Surrey Lane to find a suspect wanted for an aggravated assault in Tate County. Jones consulted a GPS, but the officers mistakenly knocked on the door of Lopez’s mobile home across the street.
After knocking on the door, officers told investigators they heard footsteps inside and saw the front porch light go out. Durden turned on his flashlight and saw a rifle barrel pointed through the open door, he said.
At that point, a dog charged out of the house, and Maze shot at it. Durden began yelling for the person inside to drop the weapon, then fired several shots through the door.
Wells disagreed with that, saying he didn’t believe there was a command to drop the weapon because Lopez wasn’t holding a weapon.
After retrieving a shield, the officers’ testimony stated they went in the house and found Lopez, bleeding and breathing laboriously, but still alive. He was handcuffed behind his back as officers said they tried to render aid. Photos from the scene show a rifle resting on the couch next to the front door.
Wells said there was disagreement among the officers as to whether the house was the correct address, though officer testimony states that they agreed to knock on the door and ask the resident if they had the correct address.
Wells said the report shows that officers did not identify themselves as police. He also said basic training should have indicated that an even-numbered address would be on the east side of the road, not the west side where Lopez’s home was.
Wells said officers shot through the door and could not have known whether Lopez was a threat.
Wells said it was not clear whether Lopez ever held the firearm, and forensics did not find evidence that he had held it. The officers’ statements about Lopez holding the rifle, Wells said, were physically impossible given the evidence.
He believes the rifle became a convenient cover-up for the officers.
“I think when you look at the facts as opposed to the statements, it’s damning,” Wells said.
The forensics report showed a single bullet struck Lopez at the back of the skull. He was found by an MBI investigator face-down about 14 feet from the door. The door was found open about 3 inches, according to the report.
The FBI began an investigation into a federal civil rights complaint against Southaven Police, but the department said in an October 2018 letter that it would decline further action because “it has been determined that a violation of Lopez’s federal civil rights could not be successfully prosecuted beyond a reasonable doubt in a federal district court.”
DeSoto County District Attorney John Champion said he had no comment Thursday.