Lawsuit alleges Laurel officer shot handcuffed man

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Updated: Aug. 12, 2019 at 4:56 PM CDT
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LAUREL, Miss. (WDAM) - Two Jones County men have filed a civil complaint against the City of Laurel and its police department over an officer-involved shooting at a safety checkpoint.

The complaint was filed on Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi Eastern Division.

The lawsuit alleges that Mekail Thomas and Ereaon Smith were leaving their place of employment around midnight on May 31, 2019 when they encountered “an unconstitutional roadblock disguised as a traffic safety checkpoint.”

Thomas, who was driving his vehicle, gave officers his valid Mississippi driver’s license and proof of insurance, according to the complaint, which said both Thomas and Smith were wearing their seat belts, adding the vehicle had a current tag and was “in proper running order.”

The complaint said police asked Thomas to pull his vehicle to the side of the road, which Thomas did, despite the plaintiffs’ claim that there was no “reasonable suspicion of any criminal wrongdoing or any other legal cause to continue detention.”

The suit alleges that Thomas and Smith were ordered out of the vehicle before being searched and arrested without explanation.

Thomas gave officers permission to search his vehicle and claims that an officer approached him after the search and said, “I told you to be honest with me, boy.” Thomas replied that he had been honest with officers.

The complaint alleges an officer then used a Taser on Thomas, even though he was handcuffed and not resisting. Thomas fell to the ground and was stunned again with a Taser as he verbally protested and attempted to crawl away. Smith was also thrown to the ground, landing on his face due to being in handcuffs, according to the suit.

Thomas and Smith claim an officer shot Thomas in the back as he began to crawl into the roadway. According to the suit, the bullet passed through Thomas’ body and narrowly missed major organs and passed “within fractions of an inch of his spine.”

The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation then took over the investigation. Thomas was treated at a hospital and eventually released with no charges filed, according to the complaint. Smith was held in jail for five hours before being released with no charges filed.

The suit claims Thomas has been paralyzed in his right leg since being released from the hospital and is unable to work.

Thomas and Smith claim intentional negligence and outrageous conduct as well as gross negligence on the part of the officers, the Laurel Police Department and the City of Laurel.

The counts listed in the complaint include failure to properly train and supervise law enforcement officers, negligent hiring, retention and failure to discipline or take corrective action, battery, assault, civil conspiracy, negligent and intentional infliction of emotion distress, false arrest/imprisonment and deprivation of civil rights.

Thomas and Smith request damages for permanent emotional injury, pain and suffering, economic damages, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress and mental anguish, as well as court costs and all damages they are entitled to by law, including compensatory and punitive damages.

Officials with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety said the investigation into the shooting is ongoing.

Laurel Police Chief Tommy Cox said the investigation is ongoing and his department cannot comment on pending litigation.

A lawsuit represents only one side of a legal argument.

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