Vigil held for Southaven man shot, killed by police

Vigil held for Southaven man shot, killed by police
Lopez and his wife (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Lopez and his wife (Source: WMC Action News 5)

SOUTHAVEN, MS (WMC) - The man killed by Southaven police officers was shot in the back of the head through his front door, according to his family's attorney.

Friday night friends, family, and community members gathered to hold a vigil for Ismael Lopez.

With prayer, music, and candles, family and friends paid their respects and asked for justice. The candlelight vigil took place just feet away from where Lopez was killed inside his Southaven home.

"Injustice against anyone is injustice against all," activist Nabeil Bayakly said.

The vigil brought many in the faith-based community together who said they are standing in solidarity with the Hispanic community.

"Whatever they are going through, whatever the suffering, whatever the hurt is the same suffering and same hurting the Muslim community is going through," Bayakly said.

The Lopez family released the following statement to the public:

Our family would like to thank the community for the support and love shown to us through this nightmare. We are saddened and in shock for the tragic loss of our beloved Ismael. He was a loving husband, guiding father, mentor to the youth in this community and a hard worker. There is no reasonable explanation about why or how this happened to our Ismael but we believe his memory demands answers, accountability, and justice. We will not rest until we know the truth. Thank you again for all the thoughts and prayers for our family during the most difficult time.

Ismael Lopez was shot and killed Sunday, July 23. Southaven Police Department said officers were serving a warrant for Samuel Pearman, who lives across the street.

Officers arrived at the wrong house where they ended up shooting Lopez, who, they said, came to the door pointing a gun at them.

However, the family's attorney, Murray Wells, said Southaven Police Department's version of events does not add up.

Lopez's wife, Claudia Linares, said her husband did not have a gun with him when he went to see what was happening outside their home.

"Mr. Lopez was shot through the door," Wells said. "Mr. Lopez died from a single bullet to the back of the head. Process that with the statements made from members of the Southaven Police Department, process that with statements made from elected officials in the City of Southaven, and see how you can arrive at a conclusion of anything other than a cover up."

Wells questioned if officers were even in the neighborhood to serve a warrant, as they said they were. Wells defended his accusation by pointing to the fact that officers questioned Pearman at the scene but never arrested him; Wells also said the warrant for Pearman was not active until July 24.

"There was not an active warrant in effect on July 23. They were not, in fact, executing a warrant," he said.

A complaint was made about Pearman on July 23, but the warrant was not issued until July 24 - one day after Lopez was shot.

"What they told us, what they told everyone is they were serving a warrant, so if they want to argue the technicality of whether or not they had a lawful purpose to be there, they didn't," Wells stated. "And whether or not there was a warrant or whether they were doing a 24-hour knock and announce, it shouldn't have been there. So, we're sort of jumping all over the place with their explanations, but at the end of the day, none of them make any sense."

Wells called for the resignation of the Southaven police chief, any officers involved in the shooting, and any elected officials who knowingly made false statements regarding Lopez's death.

Wells said he visited with the family on Thursday and that's when Lopez's son expressed troubling concerns.

"The son brought to me his concern that his father had been shot in the back. As he brought it to me while we stood in the house and I began to look at where the body came to rest, which is still marked by flowers, it made sense. He said, 'I wonder about this. It looks to me like he was running away.' And I said, 'It's a fair question. We're going to go, we're going to get the answer with your permission to examine the body. We'll tell you what we find.' Two hours later, I made one of the most difficult phone calls I've made to call and tell the son what happened."

An autopsy report and official cause of death have not yet been released by the coroner's office.

"It is so graphic and so obvious and so clear that anybody will recognize it. If the autopsy report done by the State of Mississippi says anything else, then that will be a perpetuation of this outrage because there is no other conclusion, because it is so glaringly graphic, grotesque, and brutal."

Wells said he will also ask that the Department of Justice investigate.

"We need the Department of Justice to come down to Mississippi. We are asking the Department of Justice to get involved immediately so this can stop, so my clients don't have any fear of retribution or retaliation," Wells said.

After the shooting, Wells said Southaven police officers ordered Linares out of her own house, forced her to stand outside in her sleeping garments with her hands above her head, then put her in handcuffs and left her by a tree for an hour. She was eventually taken to the police station where she made a statement, which Wells said he has yet to see.

Wells urges Southaven Police Department to contact him so they can discuss what really happened the night Ismael Lopez died.

"We've made our call today. We want the City of Southaven to respond by taking responsibility by relieving everyone who has made any misstatement. We think they've lost the right to represent citizens in that community, perpetuating untruths. Our next step is we're going to wait a very short period of time to hear from them. We're going to give the family a period of time to grieve. Then, having not heard form the City of Southaven, we'll file a lawsuit, sooner rather than later."

Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite released the following statement via Twitter on Friday:

Wells said he has not spoken to Pearman yet. Pearman was arrested Wednesday, days after investigators talked to him in person.

"We haven't talked to Mr. Pearman. We have been fortunate enough to let the press do some of that for us. So, we've been able to see his position. From what we understand, he's terrified himself. He believes that he was the target of a coordinated effort to execute him," Wells explained. "I don't know the truth of that statement, but they sure came in guns a-blazing, I guess believing that Mr. Pearman was in there without an active warrant."

Wells believes the officers who shot Lopez should absolutely face charges.

"At the very least, there should be a manslaughter charge. If you shoot a man through a door in the back of the head when he is clearly away, not a threat, yes, that is a criminal action," he said. "They didn't have any right to be on the property in the first place. That's criminal. Just because you have a badge doesn't give you the opportunity to trespass on someone else's land with absolutely no reason. So, we think it was an execution."

About Ismael Lopez

Murray Wells said Ismael Lopez was an auto mechanic who moved to the United States 20 years ago with his wife and son. He has three more children in Mexico.

Wells said Lopez has never been arrested, nor has he even been in trouble.

"Everyone tells stories about how he tried to talk to young people in his community about doing the right thing," Well said. "Everyone loved him. Everything we've ever heard was that he took it upon himself to make sure that young people in a depressed community with a lack of good educational foundation and, sometimes, a lack of parenting, he wanted to bring people up to do the right thing. We hear that story over and over again. Not just from his wife, not just from his son, but from many members in the community, which is one of the reasons people were protesting. Because everybody knew who he was based on his involvement with the community."

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