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Deputy’s shooting case again is delayed

[5/7/03]Grand jury review of a fatal shooting by a Warren County deputy sheriff has been delayed again, District Attorney Gil Martin said Tuesday.

“The case was ready to go, but I think the family preferred that somebody not so closely associated with” the people involved present it, Martin said. Assistant District Attorney John Bullard said the family said it was “mistrustful” of the prospective presentation of the case by Martin’s office.

Deputy Sheriff Lionel Johnson, 27, shot Jimmie Taylor II, who was 22, on Oct. 26 during a response to a call of a blocked road and disturbance. Taylor died the next day, and Johnson has been on administrative leave with pay pending resolution of conflicting stories about what happened outside the Taylor home on Halls Ferry Road.

First planned to be presented by the grand jury convened in January, the case was forwarded until this week because crime-lab results were incomplete and additional witnesses were identified by Taylor’s family, Martin has said. Jurors meeting this week were set to hear the case until the Taylor family made its request Monday, Martin said. Taylor’s mother, father and brother were all present when the single shot that resulted in his death was fired.

The Mississippi Highway Patrol investigated the case instead of the Warren County Sheriff’s Department. Grand juries are composed of 18 people selected at random from county voter rolls. They meet in secret to consider whether evidence is sufficient to file an indictment accusing a person of a crime.

“The attorney general’s office will do it, but not this term,” Martin said of presenting the case. “It will have to be delayed until they can receive and review” the file.

The next county grand jury is set to begin July 14, Martin said. A fourth is set for October.

“Nobody wanted to have any kind of appearance of favoritism either way,” Martin said. “The facts of the case are disputed.”

The shooting happened on a Saturday night at a birthday party for Taylor’s younger brother at their family home at 4808 Halls Ferry.

Initial reports indicate Johnson and another deputy responded to a 911 call around 10:30, complaining that cars were parked in the two-lane road near the house.

Reports have differed on what happened next. They indicate the two officers who initially responded were separated when the situation escalated.

Johnson has said the situation got out of control and that he was assaulted by Taylor and others. Call logs show he pressed the “officer in trouble” button on his hand-held radio. That would indicate an “officer down” type event.

Family members and witnesses have said Taylor was handcuffed and on the ground when he was shot. Johnson’s attorney, David Sessums of Vicksburg, has said that forensic testing has shown no evidence that Taylor was in handcuffs and has “vindicated” the deputy. He has also said the shooting was a clear case of self-defense.

Johnson has not been arrested or charged in the case. Martin has said a grand jury would decide what, if any, criminal charges against Johnson the evidence in the case warrants. For a grand jury to return an indictment in a case, at least 12 of 18 grand jurors must vote that there is enough evidence for it to go to trial.

Separate from the Highway Patrol investigation, attorneys on behalf of Taylor’s family have given the required notice to Warren County that they may pursue a civil claim against it in the case. A Jan. 28 letter to supervisors giving 120 days’ notice of a possible civil filing would make such a claim due near the end of this month. Without the Taylor case, this week’s grand jury will consider returning indictments in 59 cases, Martin said. He added that 12 to 15 witnesses would have been called, as opposed to the usual one or two. Martin said that his office had spent at least as much time on the Taylor case as any other case he could remember.

One of the witnesses, subpoenaed Friday, was in Kuwait and was not available to testify, Martin said.