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Woman shot in the arm while lying in bed sues Mississippi Capitol Police

"I could have lost my life, and my daughter could have lost hers,” Latasha Smith said. 
Latasha Smith
Latasha Smith said she hoped the lawsuit would force the Mississippi Capitol Police to change its policies and training.Imani Khayyam for NBC News

JACKSON, Miss. — A woman who says she was shot by the Mississippi Capitol Police while lying in bed sued the agency Tuesday, accusing its commanders and officers of acting recklessly and using excessive and unreasonable force against her.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Mississippi, is the second civil complaint in less than a week focusing on the Capitol Police. On Friday, the NAACP filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the state’s plan to expand the police force’s power in Jackson — and create a new court to handle its cases — imposed a parallel, state-run justice system that does not answer to voters. Three civil rights organizations have also sued to block the creation of the new court.

Latasha Smith, the woman who filed the lawsuit Tuesday, was struck in the arm by a bullet that crashed through her apartment walls on Dec. 11. A Capitol Police officer had opened fire after chasing a suspected stolen car into Smith’s Jackson apartment complex. 

The Capitol Police and the agency investigating the shooting, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation have said little to explain what happened and have declined to release the officer’s name or body camera footage, citing their investigation into the shooting. 

An NBC News analysis of surveillance camera footage showed the officer fired on a man who was fleeing after jumping out of the suspected stolen car. The officer has since returned to active duty after the department’s chief determined, based on an internal investigation, that the officer did not break any laws, according to Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell.

Smith, 49, survived, but the bullet remains lodged in her arm, and she has said the shooting left her unable to work for months and traumatized her and her 13-year-old daughter, who was with her.

Left: A photo of bullet holes outside of Latasha Smith's window; Right: A bullet hole inside of Latasha Smith's bedroom.
Latasha Smith's apartment still bears damage from the gunfire that wounded her.Bracey Harris; Imani Khayyam for NBC News

“Why not make them pay for what they did to me? I could have lost my life, and my daughter could have lost hers,” Smith said. 

Smith added that she hoped the lawsuit would force the Mississippi Capitol Police to change its policies and training on officers discharging weapons in places where people live.

Smith’s lawsuit, filed by attorneys Dennis Sweet III, Dennis Sweet IV and Carroll Rhodes, accuses Capitol Police officers of violating Smith’s civil rights by “discharging their firearms into a crowded and occupied dwelling with no regard for human life.” The shooting was the result of poor officer training and “demonstrated a deliberate indifference” to the rights of Smith and other Jackson residents, the lawsuit says.

A representative for Tindell and Capitol Police Chief Bo Luckey did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The shooting was the Capitol Police’s fourth since its officers began patrolling the streets of Jackson last summer, part of a state effort to expand the agency’s power in the capital city. Supporters of the Capitol Police’s larger role say the extra patrols are needed to help the understaffed Jackson Police Department deal with a rise in violent crime. The effort includes an aggressive street crimes unit focusing on enforcing traffic laws and finding stolen cars and illegal drugs. 

But some residents and elected leaders in Jackson say Capitol Police officers haven’t been properly trained to handle such work, citing the shootings as evidence. Records show that at the time of the shootings last year, the Capitol Police’s policies on use of force had not been updated since 2006, a period in which national standards evolved.