TUPELO – Federal authorities announced Tuesday they will not charge police officer Tyler Cook over the June 2016 shooting death of Antwun “Ronnie” Shumpert.
This decision follows an independent investigation into Shumpert’s death by the U.S. Justice Department, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi.
In a written statement released Tuesday, the Justice Department said “the evidence is insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Cook violated federal civil rights laws.”
The Justice Department noted that the standard of proof is very high for civil rights prosecutions.
A wrongful death civil suit filed on behalf of Shumpert’s survivors against Cook and the city of Tupelo remains ongoing. That suit seeks at least $35 million and is currently scheduled for a December trial.
The administration of Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton responded to the Justice Department’s Tuesday announcement with a brief statement issued through a spokesperson.
“The fact that both entities – the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the FBI – that have investigated this case found insufficient evidence for prosecution of Tyler Cook speaks for itself,” said the statement.
The administration declined further comment since civil litigation remains pending.
Carlos Moore, an attorney who represents members of Shumpert’s family, confirmed that federal authorities briefed Shumpert’s surviving family, including widow Peggy Shumpert, on Tuesday afternoon.
Moore, who become locally known last summer for his for sharply-worded rhetoric, said he believes the probe by federal authorities was insufficiently vigorous and excessively deferential to Cook’s account of events.
“Now that the family has come to grips that there will be no prosecution, they have placed all their hope in their legal team,” Moore said. “We look forward to vigorously pursuing the case in a civil arena.”
Moore specifically noted in civil litigation he will not need to prove his case under the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.
Shumpert fled from Tupelo Police Department officers following a traffic stop on the night of June 18, 2016, a fact established by a home security camera.
Cook, then a K-9 handler, located Shumpert hiding under a home in the Lee Acres neighborhood.
An altercation of some kind ensued in which Cook shoot Shumpert four times. Federal authorities assert that they found no reliable evidence to contradict Cook’s claims of self-defense.
After the shooting, Shumpert was taken by hospital to North Mississippi Medical Center, where he died in the early morning hours of June 19.
Immediately following the June 18 incident, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation. The findings of that investigation were turned over to a Lee County grand jury in August which found no cause to indict Cook of criminal conduct.
In the course of their independent investigation, federal authorities interviewed Cook and the medical examiner that performed an autopsy on Shumpert and also reviewed witness statements, the autopsy report, photographs, surveillance video and police radio traffic.
New details about that altercation were released Tuesday by the Justice Department. Cook told investigators, for example, that he punched Shumpert multiple times before Shumpert managed to wrestle Cook onto the ground. From the ground, Cook continued to struggle against Shumpert and reported that he may have hit Shumpert with the gun.
He also claimed that he only fired the weapon after he “began to see stars” and feared that he would lose consciousness.
Cook remains employed by the Tupelo Police Department.
Federal authorities also met on Tuesday evening with black community leaders in Tupelo, including an association of ministers and civic leaders who, in the wake of Shumpert’s death, dubbed themselves the Coalition of Concerned Pastors and Leaders.
James Hull, who acted as the group’s spokesman last year, confirmed the meeting to the Daily Journal but offered little comment on Tuesday’s revelations.
“I’m going to accept whatever the findings are,” Hull said of the federal probe.