Mississippi officers cleared in shooting deaths of man, baby

BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi grand jury has found no criminal fault by law enforcement officers in the shooting deaths of a Black man and his baby after a low-speed highway chase nearly a year ago.

Eric Smith, 30, and his 3-month old son, La’Mello Parker, were killed after officers chased Smith on Interstate 10 last May 3. Authorities said Smith was suspected of killing two people, including his son’s mother, in Baker, Louisiana, before driving into Mississippi.

News outlets reported the Harrison County grand jury released its report Tuesday.

Videos of the shooting showed law enforcement officers firing more than 20 rounds into Smith’s car. Smith died at the scene, and the baby died a day later of a gunshot wound to the back, according to officials.

Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell said Tuesday that Smith’s actions were “violent and reckless” and showed no regard for others. Tindell said that at one point, Smith got out of his vehicle, held the baby to his chest and shot at officers.

“Although all of the agencies involved took several steps to prevent this tragic outcome, La’Mello Parker’s life was needlessly taken as a direct result of the violent actions of his father, Eric Smith,“ Tindell said in a statement.

Activists from multiple groups, including the NAACP, Mississippi Rising Coalition, Black Lives Matter and the American Descendants of Slaves, have been pushing for answers and demanding transparency in the investigation of the shooting deaths.

Col. Randy Ginn, director of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, praised the grand jury’s decision but said in a statement that “the tragic loss of La’Mello Parker’s life was unnecessary.”

“On that day, state troopers and other law enforcement officers went to extraordinary lengths in their attempts to resolve this incident in a peaceful manner,“ Ginn said. ”We continue to grieve for the families of all those involved and will continue to pray for their healing.”

The Department of Public Safety usually investigates shootings of or by law enforcement officers. Biloxi Police Department investigated the shootings of Smith and La’Mello because state troopers were among those firing shots. The FBI analyzed evidence, including shell casings collected at the site.

Authorities said Smith had left Louisiana after allegedly shooting and killing the baby’s mother, Christin Parker, 32, and her nephew, Brandon Parker, 26, at a home near Baton Rouge.

Smith took the baby and drove into Mississippi, where law enforcement started pursuing him on I-10, according to authorities. Officers used spikes to flatten his tires, and he drove as slowly as 10 mph (16 kph) at times. At one point, Smith drove into the interstate median near an exit.

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