Why dismiss indictment against ex-cop for shooting, killing black man? AG cites ‘lack of evidence’

Updated: Jun. 3, 2020 at 10:39 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Nearly four years after a Lowndes County grand jury indicted a Columbus cop for shooting and killing a black man, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch has dismissed the case, citing a lack of evidence to prosecute.

News of the dismissal comes days after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, which triggered protests and riots across the country.

“They picked, like I said, the worst possible time imaginable to dismiss this case, and also to do it the way they did it: a two-paragraph press release without any explanation about what they’re relying on to dismiss the case," said District Attorney Scott Colom, who represents Mississippi’s 16th District.

The case stemmed from a 2015 traffic stop by then-Columbus police officer Canyon Boykin.

As Boykin approached the vehicle, passenger Ricky Ball got out of the car and ran from the officer.

Boykin shot and killed Ball, later saying Ball had a gun and he shot in self-defense.

A report from Buzzfeed suggests Boykin had followed Ball through the city months earlier, threatening him.

The Columbus Police Department fired Boykin for failing to activate his body camera while he was pursuing Ball and posting racist comments on social media.

Colom said initial news reports from Fitch last week had little, if any, details on why the case was dismissed; 3 On Your Side requested an interview with the AG to address these concerns, but Fitch declined an on-camera interview because of scheduling conflicts, according to spokesperson Ray Coleman.

She did, however, send a statement addressing some questions 3 On Your Side sent as a last resort Wednesday afternoon.

“Between February 24 and March 20, 2020, a team of experienced criminal attorneys conducted a thorough and independent review of the six boxes of evidence, including thousands of pages of documents,” Fitch said in the statement. “Given the determination that there is not evidence to prosecute the case, we further determined that Mr. Ball’s family deserved to be told of the decision in-person.”

Fitch also said her office reached out to the family, a claim disputed by Ball’s family, talking to The Appeal, a publication that focuses on criminal justice reporting.

“Attorneys, investigators, and a victim advocate discussed the case with the family and contacted the DA and local law enforcement before filing,” Fitch said in the statement.

The Republican attorney general also cited more specific reasons for deciding to drop the case, claiming forensics reports and statements of four separate Mississippi Bureau of Investigation officers helped the agency conclude Boykin fired in self-defense.

That specific evidence that had not been presented to the grand jury when it convened in Lowndes County and returned a manslaughter indictment against Boykin in September 2016, Fitch said.

By her own estimation, the criminal attorneys reviewed thousands of pages of evidence in a case that languished for nearly four years -- in just three-and-a-half weeks.

Last week, Fitch filed paperwork to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning Boykin can’t be prosecuted again for this crime.

“The door to justice is closed. It’s over. Hopefully the door to the truth is not closed, and what we’ve gotta do is get the truth out there so people can heal from it," Colom said.

Colom said he’s working to get the case file from the AG’s office now in order to share what investigators found with Ball’s family and the community.

“Let’s get the information out there so the people can see it for themselves, and if it was a sound legal decision, I’m sure some people will be upset, but the vast majority of people will be willing to accept that. What they can’t accept is a two-paragraph press release after the previous AG fought the case for four years and was ready to prosecute," he said.

It’s unclear, however, why Fitch’s predecessor Jim Hood didn’t move forward with the case faster.

Colom cites countless motions by the defense as part of the reason for the delay.

Boykin also sued the city of Columbus and received an undisclosed settlement during the time that Hood’s team worked on the criminal case.

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