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Mississippi grand jury clears officer in fatal shooting of Covington man

GULFPORT, Miss. — A grand jury says a police officer who fatally shot a Covington man outside a Gulfport, Mississippi, home last year did not commit a criminal act.

A Harrison County, Mississippi, grand jury on April 1 did not find evidence of criminal conduct by the Gulfport officer who shot Leonard Parker Jr., 53, of Covington, on Feb. 1, 2020, at around 3 a.m., WLOX-TV reported.

The officer was walking toward a house from which police had received multiple 911 phone calls when Parker started driving toward him, authorities said. That prompted the officer to fire his weapon, killing Parker, police told WLOX.

The investigation was handled by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations and the Biloxi Police Department.

Parker died from a single gunshot wound to the head, according to Harrison County Coroner Brian Switzer.

Gulfport Police spokesman Detective Jason DuCré previously had said multiple 911 calls were made from a home on 25th Street, the Biloxi Sun Herald newspaper reported.

As an officer walked toward the home, DuCré said, a car leaving the scene began to drive toward the officer, who fired his weapon, killing the driver.

Parker was pronounced dead on the scene, Switzer told the Sun Herald.

The officer was never identified.

For at least 25 years, no grand jury on the Mississippi Gulf Coast has ever indicted an officer for wrongdoing after shooting someone, the Sun Herald has previously reported.

Parker was a father of six, an Army veteran and an employee at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Chicago attorney Nicolette Ward criticized the grand jury’s decision in a statement to the Sun Herald.

“As an attorney, I am terribly disappointed by this decision, as we believe the facts in this case support an indictment and the criminal courts could and should provide an avenue for justice for the killing of Black citizens by police,” Ward said. “Leonard Parker’s family, including his wife and children, deserve full accountability for his unjustified death.”

Ward is with the firm Romanucci & Blandin LLC, which is representing Parker’s family. 

She also is a member of the legal team representing the family of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020.  

The team recently won a $27 million settlement in a civil lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis and the four officers involved in Floyd’s death.