A Mississippi police chief gave his account on Wednesday of how Gulfport police ended up fatally shooting a 15-year-old boy in the head last Thursday outside of a Family Dollar store. Jaheim McMillan was taken off of life support just before he died on Saturday evening at the USA Health University Hospital in Mobile, Alabama, Harrison County Coroner Brian Switzer told the SunHerald. Gulfport Police Chief Adam Cooper said at a news conference on Tuesday that he requested for the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to look into the shooting and charges of aggravated assault.
Though he mentioned not a single misstep made by officers during the encounter, he went to great lengths to portray the people running from police as suspects of crimes. But even in his carefully constructed portrayal, Cooper admitted that the cop who shot Jaheim then turned his attention to the car the boy was riding in. The police chief made no mention of any immediate attempt to help the teen. "After being shot in the head he was handcuffed and left there bleeding out the head with no medical attention," wrote Amera Mateen, the organizer of a GoFundMe page for Jaheim's mother. “The cop left him there went to check on the other boys who were already handcuffed and on the ground.”
A witness cited on the fundraising page said Jaheim had his hands up when he was shot and he had a McDonald's bag and keys. The police chief claimed the teen was armed but failed to indicate whether the alleged gun was visible to officers when they shot him.
Officers were responding to a 911 call about people riding in a silver Kia Soul with Georgia license plates "brandishing firearms at passing motorists" and chasing one of them, Cooper said of the circumstances leading up to the shooting. Jaheim was identified as one of the people inside the Kia.
When officers spotted the car, it was entering the Family Dollar parking lot, so two police vehicles followed it. "Immediately two individuals exited the vehicle and began to flee," Cooper said. "Officers exited their vehicles with loud verbal commands, giving them instruction to stop fleeing.”
“One of the officers observed McMillan, who was armed,” and ordered the teen to “stop and drop his weapon,” Cooper added.
"McMillan did not comply," the police chief said. "McMillan turned both his body and his weapon toward the officer. The officer fired at McMillan."
Cooper then explained what happened to those who were in the car with Jaheim. In short, they all complied, even a person found with a gun near him who Cooper said initially ran from officers but was later “tracked down by canines.” The police chief took a dramatic pause to emphasize that the accused man could be taken into custody because he complied.
Jaheim was taken to a local hospital.
Katrina Mateen, Jaheim's mother, told WLOX-TV that when she arrived on the scene of her child’s shooting police handcuffed her and walked her across the street. Video taken by social justice advocate C.J. Lawrence shows a police officer also refusing to let Mateen into the hospital and telling her before it was true that her child was dead. “Don’t put me in a bad situation,” he could be seen telling the woman.
Jaheim was airlifted to the hospital where he ultimately died.
"There are lots of stories in traditional and social media on what transpired on October 6th at Family Dollar on 8th Avenue and Pass Road," Cooper said. "Many of them are simply wrong.”
Cooper listed as an example the misidentification of one of the officers involved and the publication of the address of that officer as well as photos of him and his family. Cooper said that officer, Bryan Watson, “has nothing to do” with the shooting and was out of town when the shooting occurred.
"I respect everyone's right to freedom of speech and to protest," Cooper said. "This simply is a malicious attack on a family for no reason.”
Cooper, however, failed to identify any of the officers involved, including the one who shot and killed the teen. The Gulfport Police Department is conducting its own internal investigation and cooperating with the Mississippi Attorney General's office in its investigation, the police chief said. He said he turned over all radio traffic calls, 911 calls, dashcam video, and body-camera footage in the incident to a dispatch center.
"I’ve been assured by the attorney general’s office this will be a timely and thorough investigation,” Cooper said. “The evidence will be released as always upon its conclusion, and that’s all I have to say.”
In the absence of publicly released body-camera or dash-camera footage, those seeking answers don’t have much more than Cooper’s words to go on in the way of an official’s account of what happened, but protesters who have been demanding the release of video evidence for nearly a week now say words are not enough.
"Why it occurred, that part I don't know," Lawrence said in video he posted on Monday. "But what I do know is that no one is talking about it on a national level yet. It made the local news, but that’s about where it stopped."
Jaheim was a freshman at Gulfport High School, Sandy East, a spokesperson for the school district, told NBC News. "We are very sad about the situation,” East told the station, “and we are offering all of our students counseling and support if they need it."
Michelle Warren, Jaheim's grandmother, told WXXV her grandson was a “typical teenager,” a “good kid” who played sports.
“The pain is indescribable,” she said. “It’s like a hole in my heart, like they just snatched part of my heart out. Just what happened to him, getting shot in the head. Just still trying to process it.”
Warren said she had 25 grandchildren, and she now has 23.
Jaheim's uncle, Marvin McMillan, was also killed by police after a standoff in 2018.
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