The same law firm that represented George Floyd’s family in his shooting death in Minnesota announced on Friday it plans to sue the Gulfport Police Department for the death of an unarmed Black man in February 2020.
Leonard Parker, 53, was a father of six, combat Army veteran and long-time employee at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Georgia when a Gulfport police officer shot and killed him on Feb. 1, 2020.
The officer who killed Parker was cleared by a Harrison County grand jury, according to a partial report released April 5.
The name of the officer has not been released.
The grand jury did not hear from what the attorneys referred to as one key witness — a passenger in the vehicle with Parker when police shot and killed him.
“Black citizens like Leonard Parker Jr. continue to be shot and killed by police even when they are unarmed and have done nothing wrong,” Crump said in a release. “Police were at the location for an unrelated concern and yet Mr. Parker ends up dead. Black lives continue to be undervalued by police in our country, and it must end. As a nation, we must be better, we demand better.
“The lack of bystander video to this tragedy is unfortunate, as not only has it made it hard for many people to understand what happen(ed) and share this family’s outrage but it also allowed law enforcement here to try and bury this case from the public view.”
The Sun Herald reached out to Gulfport Police Chief Chris Ryle and the the police public information officer for comment Friday morning, but has not yet heard back.
‘We need answers, justice’
Since the fatal shooting, attorneys for the Parker family have been unable to obtain “key documents, body camera footage, or the name of any officer involved” despite filing public record requests for the information.
“But worst of all, they have not shown the Parker family the respect of even acknowledging the death.,” Romanucci said. “This is completely shameful, and we will ensure this family gets the justice they deserve.”
Leonard Parker’s widow, Catina Parker, described Parker as a “wonderful father, husband, brother and son.”
“We continue to grieve and struggle with his loss,” Catina Parker said . “He was full of life and should be alive and with us today. We need answers. We need accountability. We need justice.”
The lawyers representing Parker’s family are nationally known for their work on police misconduct litigation.
The firm Romanucci & Blandin represented the family of Floyd, killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020, in a civil lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis. The city settled in March for $27 million.
Chauvin’s trial for murder is under way in Minneapolis.
A sparse account from police
The Gulfport Police Department said in a Feb. 3, 2020 statement that officers responded to 911 calls reporting a disturbance at a house on 25th Street in the early morning hours of Feb. 1.
The police said that as an officer was approaching the house on foot, “a vehicle leaving the scene drove toward the officer. The officer discharged his weapon which killed the driver, later identified as Leonard Parker.”
No other details, including at what speed Parker was allegedly driving toward the officer or whether the officer gave verbal commands for Parker to stop, or Parker’s connection to the incident to which police were responding, have been released.
Coroner Brian Switzer told the Sun Herald at the time that Parker died of a single gunshot wound to the head.