Mississippi woman who says she was shot in bed by stray bullet loses lawsuit against police

Published 5:40 am Friday, July 14, 2023

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Mississippi woman who says she was hit by a stray police bullet while lying in bed.

Latasha Smith, 49, was in bed on Dec. 11 when an officer from the state-run Capitol Police fired several bullets at a suspect running through her Jackson apartment complex, according to her federal complaint. A stray bullet entered Smith’s apartment and struck her arm. Smith, who said her teenage daughter was home during the episode, was taken to a hospital.

In April, Smith sued Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell and Capitol Police Chief Bo Luckey, arguing that police officers under their watch violated her constitutional rights by acting with “deliberate indifference” for her life. She also claimed that Tindell and Luckey failed to properly train officers.

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In a Wednesday ruling, U.S. District Judge Tom Lee granted Tindell and Luckey’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, writing that they cannot be liable because they are not alleged to have participated in the shooting incident and because state officials cannot be sued for violations of state law in federal court.

NBC News obtained surveillance video from Smith’s apartment complex that appeared to show an officer firing on a man who was fleeing after jumping out of a suspected stolen car.

Tindell told the news outlet that the officer was initially placed on leave but later returned to active duty after an internal investigation determined the officer did not break any laws.

A spokesperson for Tindell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Smith’s attorney, Dennis Sweet IV, said in a phone interview that he and Smith are considering an appeal.

“We’re disappointed,” Sweet said. “The truth is they went into the community, there was a high-speed chase, a lady in bed got shot, and there is no recourse. And that’s going to be the new police force in Jackson.”

Officers from the Capitol Police have been patrolling around state government buildings in and near downtown, while the Jackson Police Department patrols the entire city. A new Mississippi law would expand the patrol territory of the Capitol Police department within Jackson. Critics say Capitol Police are aggressive and expanding the territory could endanger lives in the majority Black city.

Smith is Black. Her complaint said the Capitol Police use “disproportionate and unnecessary force against African American citizens.”

Members of the majority-white and Republican-controlled Legislature said they passed the law to improve safety in Jackson, which has had more than 100 homicides for each of the past three years. U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate has temporarily blocked the law from taking effect.

On Wednesday, the same day Lee dismissed Smith’s lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Justice said it was seeking to join a federal lawsuit the NAACP filed against the state to block the new law.