COLUMBUS, Miss. — A white former Mississippi police officer pleaded not guilty to manslaughter Friday in the shooting of a black man nearly a year ago that sparked community protests.
Canyon Boykin waived his arraignment behind closed doors after Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood secured a grand jury indictment against him on Wednesday.
Lowndes County Circuit Judge Jim Kitchens set his bail at $20,000 pending a Nov. 28 trial, and an interracial crowd of Boykin supporters applauded as he left the courthouse in handcuffs.
Boykin said he fired his weapon while chasing after Ricky Ball last October because the 26-year-old suspect appeared to point a gun at him.
Ball’s family disputed whether Boykin had cause to shoot, and as with many other police killings of African-Americans, protests arose in Columbus, a mostly black city of 23,000 in northeast Mississippi.
District Attorney Scott Colom transferred the case to the attorney general’s office in July to prevent the appearance of bias. The manslaughter charge carries a possible prison term of 20 years.
“Our police officers put their lives on the line for us every day,” Hood said in a Friday statement. “We owe it to them and to our citizens to see that the highest standards of conduct are always met.”
One of Boykin’s attorneys, Jeff Reynolds, said he’s “flabbergasted” Boykin wasn’t cleared.
“I can say in my 30-plus years of law practice that I have never seen a bigger travesty of justice than this indictment of this police officer,” Fletcher said. “It is an absolute travesty and he will be found not guilty. He’s innocent of these charges.”
The city fired Boykin as he was trying to resign after the shooting, saying he had broken department policy by not turning on his body camera, by inviting his then-fiancee to ride along without permission and by making derogatory social media posts about African-Americans, women and disabled people.
Boykin then sued, claiming the city violated his First Amendment rights by firing him over social media posts, and violated his due process rights by subjecting him to a biased hearing and knuckling under to “uninformed public pressure.”
Ball’s father also intends to sue the city. His lawyer, Mose Lee Sudduth, said Ball’s relatives are pleased to see action against the fired officer. “This is something that goes toward healing some of the suffering he’s had to go through,” Sudduth said.
City officials have denied wrongdoing.
In his lawsuit, Boykin said he shocked Ball with a stun gun, and then saw him with a handgun as he lay on the ground. Boykin said Ball recovered from the shock, began to run again and turned as if to shoot the officer. Boykin said that’s when he fired. Hit twice, Ball died from blood loss.
Authorities said a pistol, reported stolen from a Columbus police officer’s home, was found near Ball’s body, as was a substance believed to be marijuana. Boykin said Ball also threw away some cocaine he was carrying during the chase.
Investigators have released no findings on Boykin’s claims.
“There’s something in there that made the grand jury say the indictment was justified,” said State Rep. Kabir Karriem, D-Columbus.
A city council member at the time of the shooting, Karriem said the indictment is progress for Mississippi, and a tribute to the people who marched and signed petitions demanding the grand jury investigation.
Some out-of-uniform police officers joined about two dozen supporters of Boykin outside the courthouse. Some of them shouted “Not guilty!” and “We love you, Canyon!” as he left.
“I think we’re so quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” said Jake Reeves, who said was a childhood friend of Boykin. “You’ve got all the evidence piled up that shows he did nothing wrong. It’s popular right now to persecute police officers.”
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