“No one deserves to die the way he did,” Tamicka Smith, his older sister, told ThinkProgress.
Shumpert’s family filed a lawsuit seeking at least $35 million from the Tupelo police department Thursday, citing the “pre-death pain” he suffered “prior to expiring from the dog bites, body blows, and gunshot wounds.”
On June 18, Shumpert was pulled over for a routine traffic stop in Tupelo on June 18 and fled his car. For reasons still unknown to Shumpert’s family, Officer Tyler Cook released a K-9 who found Shumpert hiding under a nearby home. The dog attacked him, gashing a hole through his testicles and scratching him across his body. When the officer approached Shumpert, he shot him four times.
Shumpert died handcuffed in a hospital roughly five hours later. When his siblings saw him — Shumpert was the youngest of five children — he had a mutilated groin, boot marks on his head, a cut-open eye, and scratches across his entire body.
Smith, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, told ThinkProgress that she heard about her brother’s death from her older sister. His siblings, children, wife, and mother were first told they wouldn’t be able to see his mangled body. Eventually, they were allowed to identify him through a glass window.
It wasn’t until the next morning that they started piecing together information about the incident by speaking with his friend, who was in the passenger seat of the vehicle at the time.
His sister said that Shumpert, who grew up in a Mississippi town not far from Tupelo, had never spent time in prison and had never had any serious interactions with law enforcement. The Tupelo police, meanwhile, have said he had an outstanding warrant for a 2013 charge of theft in Texas.
Smith said he may have run from the traffic stop because he knew the potential for police interactions to escalate.
“I think he ran out of fear,” she said. “I think he ran truly out of fear. That’s one thing he didn’t want to deal with is the police, because of the police brutality that goes on nowadays. He just wanted to stay clear of the police. His thing was, ‘I just want to get a job, work and take care of my family.’ That’s all he wanted to do.”
The police department has claimed in the weeks since the incident that the dog never bit Shumpert and that all of his injuries were sustained by bullets. The department’s story involves Shumpert attacking the officer and leaving him with a bruised and bloody face.
But Shumpert’s family, friends, and attorney have rejected that claim, maintaining both in the lawsuit and in interviews that the incident was brutal and horrific and that Shumpert did not instigate any violence.
Shumpert had five children, ranging in age from three to 14 years old. Though he wasn’t working at the time he was shot and had struggled with making child support payments, he’d recently been offered a new job and was excited to start working again, his sister said. He was also saving up money so that he could leave Tupelo — “The struggle is real in Tupelo,” Smith said — to move to Texas to join his siblings.
“My brother loved everybody,” Smith said. “He was the youngest so he was spoiled. He was a mamma’s baby, even at 37. And he was trying to get ahead in life, trying to get up and get on his feet. Yes, he made some past mistakes in life, but he was really trying to get ahead.”
In the weeks since his death, Smith said that countless people have told her stories about Shumpert’s character, explaining how he helped them out and how he looked out for everybody in his community. The loss has been especially hard for his children because some of them are not old enough to understand why their father is gone, she said.
“There was never a day when we thought we would be burying our brother from police brutality at 37 years old,” she said. “Not until the day it happened.”
Cook, the officer who shot Shumpert, has been placed on paid administrative leave until the completion of the state’s investigation. And the family’s attorney, Carlos Moore, announced Thursday — almost two weeks after the incident — that he’s filed a federal civil lawsuit.
“This family deserves justice, sooner rather than later,” he said in a press conference. “Their loved one was killed within ten minutes of coming into contact with the police.”
The suit names the city of Tupelo, the mayor, police chief, and others as defendants and charges them with assault, battery, and the use of excessive force.
“Justice would look like this man and everybody that was with him that night going to prison,” Smith said. “He should never be able to serve as a police officer again. He needs to be convicted as a felon. That’s what justice would look like for us, because had the shoe been on the other foot — our black people, they go to jail for life and they don’t even kill people. There is no way this man or anyone who was out there with him should walk free.”
Smith also said she hopes that her brother’s name joins those of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and countless others whose stories have helped shape a national conversation about systematic racism by police departments across the country.
“We want the world to know what happened to our brother… I believe my brother was sacrificed so others could live,” she said. “For real, this is a wake up call that the system is truly crooked.”
Mississippi officials are currently investigating the police department and the local chapter of the NAACP has requested that the Federal Bureau of Investigation oversee that investigation.
On Thursday, Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre said in a press conference that the investigation is almost complete and that offiicials are just awaiting the results of lab work on tissue samples, blood work and body fluids that have been submitted to the state crime lab’s toxicology division.
“The crime lab has been very, very busy and what we’ve done, we’ve actually made a phone call and asked them to help expedite things and to move it along because of the nature of this particular case,” he told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on Thursday, before adding that the results could be ready to present to a grand jury within three to four weeks.
Smith said that no matter what the investigation finds, she and her family will make sure that the police department doesn’t forget about this horrific incident.
“We just want them to know that this is not a case we will sweep under the rug,” she said. “Because I feel like when they came and told my mamma, ‘Your son is gone,’ they thought we were just going to bury my brother and let this die. But they messed with the wrong family.”
Author: KIRA LERNER