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Jury clears Southaven officers of wrongdoing in death of Ismael Lopez

Ismael Lopez (left) and Claudia Linares (right)

A jury has dismissed a lawsuit arguing that two Mississippi police officers involved in the fatal shooting while serving an arrest warrant at the incorrect address violated the civil rights of a Southaven resident.

The case was filed by Claudia Linares after her husband, 41-year-old Ismael Lopez, died at their residence on 5881 Surrey Lane shortly after midnight on July 24, 2017.

According to court documents, Southaven officers Zachary Durden and Samuel Maze were sent to serve an arrest warrant for Samuel Pearman after receiving a complaint involving domestic assault.

Pearman, who lived across the street from Lopez, had reportedly choked a woman at a Citgo gas station in Tate County the day prior. The woman wrote in the complaint that Pearman’s home could be identified by a large “P” hanging on his front door. She was not in Pearman’s residence at the time of the incident.

Once both officers arrived at Surrey Lane, Durden climbed the stairs leading up to Lopez’s wooden porch before knocking at the door.

Police reports stated that a pit bull then aggressively rushed out of the home as the door opened, leading Maze to fire a shot at the dog. Durden said in the report that he saw a rifle aimed at the officers through a small crack in the door after the dog was escaping and demanded Lopez drop his weapon.

Four shots were then fired into the home, with the first bullet being lodged in the railing of the wooden porch and the next two hitting the trailer’s front door. The final bullet went through the base of Lopez’s skull and traveled to the front of his head.

The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation (MBI) later released that the crack in the door was believed to be a little over one inch wide after the second bullet was discharged and three inches open once the third bullet was shot.

Both Maze and Durden stated that they found Lopez breathing “laboriously” six feet from the entrance and proceeded to handcuff him in a prone position on the floor. Reports added that a .22 rifle was located on the couch six feet away from Lopez’s body, but his fingerprints or DNA were not found on the weapon.

Linares was also placed in handcuffs following the event and escorted outside by the two officers, with the widow later filing a $20 million lawsuit claiming that Maze and Durden violated her husband’s civil rights.

Despite having no active warrants at the time of his death, the city of Southaven argued that Lopez did not have his civil or constitutional rights violated because he was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico living in the United States. Officials also revealed that Lopez had faced deportation orders and criminal charges for illegally possessing firearms prior to the incident.

A U.S. District Court judge later dismissed the city’s argument in 2020, stating that constitutional rights apply to “all persons” in the U.S. Three years later, a jury rejected Linares’ lawsuit after handing down a decision finding the officers not civilly liable for Lopez’s death.

“This was a tragic event and our sincerest condolences continue for the family and friends of Ismael Lopez,” Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite said in a statement. “This verdict proves what we’ve believed to be correct since day one as our officers responded appropriately considering the circumstance of being threatened with deadly force. We’ve stood behind them during the last six years for this very reason and, for their sake, are glad this trial is over.”

Attorney Murray Wells told WREG that he believes that Lopez would not have been killed if the officers had not gone to the wrong address.

“There are a couple of huge factors at play. One was this unbelievable mistake of going to the wrong address and we felt it was just incompetent because they didn’t even take the time to look at the boxes,” Wells said. “They went to the wrong side of the road, so that started this.”

Wells added that Linares and her husband never heard Maze and Durden announce that they were police officers when knocking on Lopez’s door.

“Then those officers used tactical maneuvers to hide themselves as police officers,” Wells explained. “They never announced that they were police and at the end of the day Ismael Lopez was shot through a door, in the back of the head.”

At this time, Linares is not expected to receive any financial compensation for her husband’s death.

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