While searching for a domestic violence suspect in the summer of 2017, police in Southaven, Mississippi, visited the wrong home and shot dead an innocent man. But according to the city, 41-year-old Ismael Lopez wasn’t protected by the U.S. Constitution at the time of his slaying because he was an undocumented immigrant.
Speaking to reporters last week, Murray Wells, an attorney representing Lopez’s family, lambasted the city’s argument as both “chilling” and “insane,” The Washington Post reported.
“In an address to a federal judge in an open pleading in court, the city of Southaven has announced that it is their policy that if you are an undocumented resident of that city, you have no constitutional protections,” Wells said at a Thursday press conference, per CNN. “Meaning that storm troopers can come into your house and kill you without regard to any constitutional results or repercussions whatsoever.”
Lopez, a native of Mexico who ran a small auto mechanic’s shop in Southaven, was killed on the night of July 24, 2017, after police showed up at his home, the Commercial Appeal reported. The officers had been looking for Lopez’s neighbor, a man accused of aggravated domestic violence, but ended up knocking on the wrong door.
Police allege Lopez appeared at the front door with a handgun — a claim refuted by Lopez’s wife, who was home at the time. Wells said Lopez, who was not wanted for any crime at the time of his death, was killed by a single bullet to the back of the head.
Last July, a local grand jury declined to indict the two officers involved in the fatal shooting. About a year later, Lopez’s family filed a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Oxford, Mississippi, against the city of Southaven, the chief of Southaven police and the officers involved in Lopez’s death.
Attorneys for the city of Southaven, located in the Greater Memphis area, have since attempted to convince the court to dismiss the suit by arguing that since Lopez was an undocumented immigrant and thus had no “legally recognized relationship” with the U.S., he enjoyed no constitutional protections on American soil.
He specifically had no rights under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, nor the 14th Amendment, which promises equal protection to all citizens, the attorneys said in court documents filed this month.
“If [Lopez] ever had Fourth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment civil rights, they were lost by his own conduct and misconduct,” said attorney Katherine Kerby, CNN reported. “Ismael Lopez may have been a person on American soil but he was not one of the ‘We, the People of the United States’ entitled to the civil rights invoked in this lawsuit.”
The court documents mentioned Lopez’s earlier brushes with the law, including two deportations in 2001 and then in 2013. According to a separate Mississippi Bureau of Investigation report, Lopez was also arrested on domestic violence and DUI charges in Washington State in the 1990s. He, however, had no warrants out for his arrest at the time of his death.
As The Washington Post noted, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on multiple occasions that people on U.S. soil are guaranteed certain basic rights, no matter their immigration status.
Wells said he and the Lopez family were appalled by the tactics employed by the city of Southaven.
“We’re stunned that someone put this in writing,” the attorney told the Post.