An attorney for a city in Mississippi said in court documents a man who was shot by police in a case of mistaken identity has no Fourth or 14th Amendment protections because he was not a US citizen.
Ismael Lopez was shot and killed at his mobile home in July 2017 after police mixed up his address with that of a man wanted for domestic assault. Murray Wells, an attorney representing Lopez's family, said an investigation commissioned by his firm revealed that Lopez died of a single bullet to the back of the head.
In June, Lopez's family filed a $20 million wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court against Southaven, the city's police chief and the officers involved in Lopez's death.
In response, an attorney for the city filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on September 4, saying Lopez had no Fourth or 14th Amendment protections because Lopez was an "illegal alien" at the time of his death.
A number of Supreme Court rulings, such as an oft-cited 1982 decision over the right to education in public schools, have found that constitutional protections do apply to undocumented immigrants. How that plays out in practice is frequent fodder for courtroom battles, including a litany of pending lawsuits over various Trump administration immigration policy changes.
The Mississippi city's recent court filing said Lopez was a convicted felon "for a crime of violence" while in the US, and did "not have the same rights as legal or resident aliens."
"If he ever had Fourth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment civil rights, they were lost by his own conduct and misconduct. 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," a city attorney wrote in her motion.
In the conclusion, the city lawyer says, "Federal civil rights are not civil rewards for violating the laws of the United States."
Lopez had previously been deported twice and re-entered the country without permission, according to a Mississippi Bureau of Investigation report obtained by the Commercial Appeal in Memphis. He had been arrested on domestic violence and DUI charges in Washington State in the 1990s, according to the report.
At a Thursday news conference, Wells, the Lopez family attorney, described the city's response as "chilling," reported CNN affiliate WATN.
"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.
"Meaning, that storm troopers can come into your house and kill you without regard to any constitutional results or repercussions whatsoever."
"It's in direct conflict with the Constitution of the United States, which clearly says under the 14th Amendment line one (that) all persons on United States territories have constitutional rights," Wells said. "We're shocked; we do not believe that those arguments are in good faith. We don't believe they're founded on any real law whatsoever."
A local grand jury declined to indict the two officers, DeSoto County District Attorney John Champion said in July 2018, according to CNN affiliate WREG.
Champion said the grand jury knew the officers went to the wrong address and never identified themselves at the door. He said he gave the grand jury the option to indict on charges of homicide or manslaughter, or to not indict.
In a statement issued in July 2018, Steve Pirtle, then the Southaven police chief, said one of the officers involved in the case had left the department, WREG reported.