MOSS POINT, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s been seven weeks since Toussaint Diamon Sims died after being shot by a Moss Point police officer while fleeing from authorities.
As the district attorney prepares to present the evidence of that shooting to a grand jury, the local branch of the NAACP is expressing concerns over the way key pieces of evidence may have been handled.
Attorney Calvin Taylor, who represents the unidentified Moss Point officer that shot Sims, said he saw the body cam footage and that the shooting was justified. The NAACP is questioning why that video was released to Taylor and not to the attorneys representing the Sims family.
“The NAACP is concerned with the actions that were taken by Moss Point Police Department,” said Jackson County-Moss Point NAACP President Curley Clark. “We feel like it was a breach in the chain of custody of evidence that the Moss Point Police Department allowed to be reviewed prior to the grand jury. The body cam video was released to the attorney representing the alleged shooting officer and other attempts to have that body cam reviewed by the attorney for the family, the family, the media, and the NAACP were denied.”
Clark continued: “The DA's office did not share that video information with Calvin Taylor. Moss Point Police Department did. They either allowed Calvin Taylor to review the original video or provided him a copy of the copy. That's why we have concerns about the evidence, the body cam footage. The concern in the community is a possible cover-up attempt and that's why the NAACP is especially concerned.”
Aside from Moss Point Police releasing evidence to the officer’s attorney, the video itself is also being questioned by the NAACP.
Clark said the NAACP, along with the family’s attorneys, have interviewed nearly a dozen witnesses who all have similar accounts of what they saw on Aug. 8, 2019. Those witness accounts, however, do not line up with what Calvin Taylor said he saw when he viewed the body cam footage.
“There are concerns in the community regarding the authenticity of the video footage that Calvin Taylor spoke about so we feel it's critical for the DA to take that into consideration because all of the eyewitness accounts of what took place at the time that Diamon Sims was shot by Moss Point Police Department is in direct conflict with the explanation that Calvin Taylor reported after his review of the body cam footage,” explained Clark.
This is critical, Clark noted, because the grand jury is set to meet Monday, Sept. 30 and begin hearing cases.
Clark said all the witness statements that were gathered by the NAACP and the Sims’ family attorneys were handed over to District Attorney Angel McIlrath. In letters exchanged between Sims and McIlrath, the district attorney confirmed she received that information and asked that any other witness statements be forwarded directly to her office.
Clark said the district attorney and Mississippi Bureau of Investigation also expressed concerns that body cam video was released to the police officer’s attorney by Moss Point Police Department. However, neither McIlrath nor MBI have addressed any concerns at this time.
“The important thing here is that in the course of the investigation that (the NAACP and family attorneys) conducted, in checking with MBI and the district attorney's office, they both shared our concerns about the way the evidence was handled prior to their possession,” said Clark.
“The NAACP will expose any attempt by the Moss Point Police Department to circumvent the system and/or prevent justice from being served,” stated Clark in a letter to McIlrath dated Sept. 25, 2019.
When asked about the NAACP’s statement that was released Thursday, DA McIlrath referred us back to a statement she made last month following the shooting. At that time, she said: “While I understand this is a matter of public concern, the Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct limit what information can be released, at this time, pertaining to the ongoing investigation. Specifically, Rule 3.6 prohibits me or my office from communicating to the public certain information, including but not limited to, evidence expected to be presented in ongoing proceedings.”
Sims, 27, died Aug. 8 after being shot by a Moss Point officer near the intersection of 2nd Street and Martin Luther King Blvd. At the time of the shooting, authorities say Sims was fleeing from police, leading them on a brief chase that began in Pascagoula and ended in Moss Point.
According to Moss Point Police Chief Brandon Ashley, Sims had six warrants at the time of his arrest - three felonies and three misdemeanors. Two of the felony warrants for fleeing from police and one was for aggravated assault; two of the misdemeanor warrants were for domestic violence charges and one was for simple assault.