HATTIESBURG – Nearly a year after a Forrest County sheriff’s deputy fatally shot a mentally ill man, the man’s family has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the county for using fatal force rather than helping.
Corey Maurice McCarty Hughes, 45, died July 14, 2022 outside of his sister’s house in the Palmers Crossing neighborhood. As his family had done over a dozen times before, they went through the civil commitment process to get Hughes treatment and called sheriff’s deputies to pick him up and take him to the South Mississippi State Hospital in Purvis.
Investigators said a deputy shot Hughes in the neck and torso after the man struck him with a hammer. Months later, the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office determined the shooting was justified.
“This has left a hole in our hearts,” said Cassandra Teal, one of Hughes’ sisters who witnessed his death. “It wasn’t right what they (have) done.”
The lawsuit will be heard in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. The plaintiff is Hughes’ father, James, on behalf of Corey’s daughter, Chloe, and the defendants are Forrest County and 10 unnamed sheriff’s deputies.
It alleges “collective assault, negligence, gross negligence, and reckless disregard for the safety of others” and violation of Hughes’ federal, civil, Constitutional and human rights, according to the lawsuit.
The sheriff’s deputies inflicted “unnecessary bodily harm” through “excessive, unreasonable, and unjustifiable force,” the suit alleges.
In its response to the lawsuit complaint, the defendants denied the allegations and invoked qualified immunity, which protects a governmental entity and government officials including law enforcement from being sued for wrongdoing while doing their jobs, according to the lawsuit.
Trial is scheduled for April 1, 2024, in Hattiesburg before U.S. District Judge Halil Ozerden.
Hughes was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in the late 1990s and took medication, his family said. But when he stopped taking it, a family member would go through the civil commitment process to get him treatment.
Verna Tameka McCarty, one of Corey’s sisters, said in 20 years, her brother had been civilly committed over a dozen times and the sheriff’s office was familiar with him. She asked why they acted differently the night he was killed.
“We have been going through this for years and have been trying to do the right thing in a situation when we needed further assistance,” she said.
McCarty said the deputies wronged her brother because they were not prepared to work with someone with mental illness.
Under state law, sheriff’s deputies are required to pick up civil commitment patients and take them to the state hospital or to a holding location such as a jail until there is an available bed.
Attorney Dennis C. Sweet IV, who is representing James Hughes in the civil lawsuit, said there are policies and procedures for law enforcement to follow when encountering people like Corey Hughes who have been diagnosed with mental illness. He said the deputies did not follow those rules.
The Forrest County NAACP and Community Action Team of Palmers Crossing joined the Hughes family to show support and call for justice and accountability.
“We will not go away,” said Nathan Jordan of the Community Action Team. “We will be here until justice is done.”