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Gulfport Police Kill 15-Year-Old Jaheim McMillan, Prompting Search For Answers

Community organizers and supporters stood with Katrina Mateen, the mother of slain 15-year-old Jaheim McMillan. His funeral was held at the Lyman Community Center on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. A Gulfport police officer shot and killed Jaheim McMillan at a Family Dollar on Pass Road on Oct. 5, 2022. Photo by Leo Carney 

Jaheim McMillan, a Black 15-year-old, died after a police officer shot him in the head outside a Family Dollar in Gulfport, Miss., on Oct. 6. His family and other residents of the Gulf Coast city are demanding answers from the Gulfport Police Department, including the release of body-camera footage.

At a press conference on Oct. 11, Gulfport Police Chief Adam Cooper said that he had handed over information concerning McMillan’s death to the Mississippi Bureau of Information, which due to a 2021 change to Mississippi law must take over the investigation of all officer-involved shootings.

MBI does not rapidly release information on police shootings, if ever. After the Mississippi Free Press requested an incident report on Wednesday, MBI would confirm only that the incident involved a juvenile, occurred at about 3 p.m., and identified the location as 1016 Pass Road, Gulfport, Mississippi, the location of the Family Dollar. The report provided no information about the circumstances or reason for the shooting.

A Mississippi Department of Public Safety official wrote in response to the Mississippi Free Press’ request for the incident report that because the “case is currently an active, open investigation with MBI, all further information is considered to be part of MBI’s investigative report, pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated §25-61-12 and Mississippi Code Annotated §25-61-3(f). Therefore, MDPS has no further responsive information, at this time.”

Police Not Releasing Full Details

At Tuesday’s press conference, Gulfport Police Chief Adam Cooper said that officers responded to a 911 call on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. “The Gulfport Police Department received a telephone complaint from a 911 caller about a motorist in a silver Kia Soul with a Georgia state license plate accompanied by several subjects later identified as McMillan, Bell, Thomas, Ellis and Cooper. They were brandishing firearms at passing motorists and began chasing one of them.”

Gulfport Police Chief Adam Cooper said in a Oct. 11, 2022, press briefing that the police “received a telephone complaint from a 911 caller about a motorist in a Silver Kia Soul with Georgia State license plate accompanied by several subjects,” he said. Gulfport Police Department

After that car entered the Family Dollar parking lot, Cooper said, two officers in two separate police cars followed them. “Immediately two individuals exited the vehicle and began to flee; officers exited their vehicles with loud verbal command, giving them instruction to stop fleeing; one of the officers observed McMillan, who was armed. The officer gave orders for him to stop and drop his weapon,” he said.

“McMillan did not comply. McMillan turned both his body and his weapon towards the officer. The officer fired at McMillan, and McMillan was struck by the bullet and fell,” Cooper said. “I have been assured by the Attorney General’s office (that this) will be a timely and thorough investigation. The evidence will be released as always upon its conclusion.”

Historically in Mississippi, local and state law-enforcement agencies do not, however, release detailed evidence and often do not ever name the officers involved, which has led to public debate in recent years. In Jackson, while under pressure from the Jackson Free Press, Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba convened nearly a year of task-force meetings that finally adopted a policy of releasing names of officers who shoot people within 72 hours. But then the City of Jackson began turning over the officer investigations to MBI, which does not follow that transparency policy.

“Once a case is closed, DPS and MBI will produce additional information upon request, which may include investigative reports and related documents, as well as related video/audio footage,” Mississippi Department of Public Safety Press Secretary Bailey Martin told the Mississippi Free Press in an August 2022 statement.

“The agency retains the right to redact or withhold certain information and/or materials if circumstances require it,” she added. “In those cases, the agency will communicate its reasons for withholding information and/or materials.

Public Accounts Differ from Police

Mississippi Black Lives Matter Co-founder Reginald Virgil told the Mississippi Free Press on Oct. 10  that there are conflicting accounts of what happened. Residents who have been protesting outside the Gulfport Police Department are calling for the release of any police recording of the incident, he said.

Harrison County resident Deborah Stout said in a social-media video that she was present when the police officer shot McMillan.

“I saw the cop shoot the guy. I did not see a gun on him,” Stout said in the video, which Gulfport community activist Marquell Bridges posted on Facebook.

“He was coming out of the store with his hands up. I had just pulled in. And I saw what happened,” Stout added in the video posted on Oct. 9, 2022.

Deborah Stout said that she saw a Gulfport police officer shoot 15-year-old Jaheim McMillan in front of a Family Dollar store on Oct. 6, 2022, but that she “did not see a gun on” McMillan. Photo via Facebook video screenshot

In an interview on Thursday, Oct. 13, Stout told the Mississippi Free Press that she is an Uber driver and comes to that location to wait for notifications on her phone to pick up passengers. She said she had just driven to the Family Dollar when she “saw them put some guys on the ground and handcuff them,” and added that after that she “noticed a little little boy at the front door.

“I did see him come out the front door with his hands up, and that’s when he was shot. My mind was like, What the hell’s going on?” she said. “I’m going through—I’m going through PTSD right now. I can’t sleep, my anxiety is up. I’m very depressed.”

Virgil, a Gulfport resident and University of Southern Mississippi social-work graduate, has been taking part in demonstrations calling for “justice for Jaheim” with repeated chants of “hands up, don’t shoot” and “no justice, no peace.”

“We have two different stories from what the media put out, and what the family is saying and what eyewitnesses are saying, so they’re several different stories on what actually happened,” he said. “So at this point in time, we are just looking for transparency from the police department. Release the body-cam footage, also for Family Dollar to release the footage that they have so that way the family can know what happened.”

A receptionist at the local Family Dollar told the Mississippi Free Press on Wednesday that they “don’t have any statement at this time.”

‘He Should Not Have Been Shot’

“There’s so much being said about it, no one really knows what the truth is, but regardless we still trust the family, and we trust what the witnesses say they saw happen,” Reginald Virgil told the Mississippi Free Press on Wednesday. “Now, regardless of what the story says or what other media outlets say about what happened that day, that they had guns and they were waving them.”

If reports are correct that McMillan did not have a gun, Virgil added, “he should not have been shot.”

“The family wants answers, and they want the police officer who killed Jaheim to be held accountable for this, if not the police department, so that’s where we are right now.”

Black Lives Matter Mississippi co-founder and community activist Reginald Virgil is demanding the release of the police body=camera footage of what happened when a Gulfport Police shot 15-year-old Jaheim McMillan on Oct. 6, 2022. Photo courtesy Reginald Virgil

Police Chief Adam Cooper said that after shooting Jaheim McMillan, “the same officer then turned his attention back to the vehicle.”

“He observed one of the vehicle occupants outside the vehicle and another one exiting. The officer ordered the suspect to the ground, and he complied and laid on the ground,” Cooper continued. “The suspect was later found to have a weapon in his waistband. When he was taken into custody, the other individual, still in the car, was ordered to exit the vehicle and laid on the ground. He also complied and was taken into custody.”

Cooper said police canines pursued the other teenager, who allegedly fled from the car with McMillan. “The suspect that fled north that was pursued by the first officer was tracked down by canines. He was located, he complied, and he was taken into custody. A firearm was found in close proximity to him,” he added. “McMillan was transported to a local area hospital, suffering from a single gunshot wound, and was later airlifted to an out-of-state hospital.”

‘I Did Not See A Gun On Him’

Mary Spivery is the mother of Kyron Bell, 16, one of the four teenagers who was with McMillan when the officer shot him. She told the Mississippi Free Press in an interview on Thursday that all four are currently in jail with a bond of $500,000 each on aggravated-assault charges. “I want them to release my son, and this is really driving me—it’s mentally messing with me,” she said.

Gulfport Police Department transferred the case involving the officer who shot Jaheim McMillan on Oct. 6, 2022, of an officer-involved shooting on Oct. 6, 2022, to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation.

WLOX, a Biloxi, Miss., ABC and CBS affiliate, reported on Monday that the teenagers are in jail on two counts of aggravated assault, each with a $250,000 bail bond for each count, and charged as adults.

Police Chief Adam Cooper said Tuesday that he is asking the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to “take over the entirety of the investigation from the charges of aggravated assault to the officer-involved shooting in order for all circumstances and facts to be investigated by an outside agency.”

On Thursday, Gulfport Police Department Public Information Officer Sergeant Jason DuCre’ told the Mississippi Free Press that the department cannot comment on the case. “So being that this is an active investigation and it’s an officer-involved shooting, the investigation’s being assumed by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation. So any further questions would have to go through them. We can’t—It’s not our investigation—so we are not at liberty to comment,” he said.

He did confirm that the other four teenagers are in jail.

‘I Don’t Know How They Expected Him To Survive’

In an interview with Fox 8’s David Jones, McMillan’s mother, Katrina Mateen, said the information she has shows that her son “came out the dollar store with his hands up, and they shot him in the head, and then I’m hearing that he (had) seen them, he was sitting in the car and he (saw) the police pull up with guns. So he got out (of) the car and ran in the store or tried to run in the store, and they shot him in the head.”

WLOX reported on an earlier press release from Gulfport police. “The department received reports of a car with multiple people, all under the age of 18, waving guns at drivers,” the outlet reported. “The press release states that the officer engaged an armed suspect, McMillan, leading to shots being fired. The other suspect was taken into custody following an on-foot pursuit. McMillan was taken to Gulfport Memorial Hospital to be treated for a gunshot wound and was later taken to USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital in Mobile, Ala. All suspects involved were taken into custody, and several firearms were recovered.”

Katrina Mateen is pictured here crying on a Facebook video post on Oct. 8, 2022, about the loss of her son, Jaheim McMillan. Photo via Facebook video screenshot

A court document dated Oct. 7, 2022, that Harrison County  provided to the Mississippi Free Press says that the four suspects in custody “admitted culpability in the incident” to the police. They “participated in and encouraged” the car chase, including “brandishing firearms,” the document added.

Bridges told the Mississippi Free Press Wednesday that he learned what he believed happened from “four or five” eyewitnesses. “Every last witness said that Jaheim had his hands up when shot, and he was unharmed,” he said. “They had just pulled up. It’s their local neighborhood, Family Dollar. They play basketball across the street every day.”

“A car filled with teenage boys pulled up to a Family Dollar (and after) about five minutes—we would say anywhere from seven to five minutes, an officer pulled up and pulled behind … . [K]ids take off running. One kid begins to take off running and then stops and puts his hands up, and he was gunned down,” Bridges added.

The community activist accused the police of “wanton endangerment” for shooting into the store. “It was two managers, two Black women, a police officer from Bay St. Louis (Miss.), his mother, and his kids (who were) in the store with the bullets coming through the window,” he said.

He said “one of the store managers” told him that after the officer shot McMillan that he lay on the ground for “at the very least eight minutes, with blood pouring from his head.” Witnesses snapped photos that show him lying on the ground in a red hoodie outside the Family Dollar entrance, his hands cuffed behind his back and a trail of blood on the pavement.

“I don’t know how they expected him to survive,” Bridges added.

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