When District Attorney Scott Colom crossed the lawn in front of the Lowndes County Courthouse Wednesday morning and stood before a podium to announce how his office planned to proceed with the Ricky Ball case, there were as many media present as there were spectators.
In a brief statement, Colom announced that he had reached an agreement to turn over the case to the state attorney general’s office with the stipulation that the case would be presented to a Lowndes County grand jury to determine whether charges should be filed.
The announcement comes 36 days after Colom received the results of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations report and 264 days after then-Columbus Police Department officer Canyon Boykin shot and killed Ricky Ball, 26, after an Oct. 16 traffic stop.
Colom, a Columbus native and former city prosecutor was elected district attorney roughly two weeks after the shooting.
In his statement, Colom noted that the district attorney’s office works closely with local law enforcement. Anyone who has ever watched an episode of the long running TV series “Law and Order” can probably recite the show’s introduction from memory: “In the criminal justice system the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The police who investigate crime and the District Attorneys, who prosecute the offenders.”
Given the nature of that working relationship, we can find no grounds to object to Colom’s decision to remove his office from the investigation. While there may be some residents who view his decision as an effort to remove himself from a controversial case, we believe it is wise to remove any suggestion that bias played a role in whatever happens next.
Whatever criticism may emerge going forward, having a special prosecutor handle the case removes any grounds for accusations of bias toward either CPD or community members, who believe the shooting was not justified.
Of equal value, we believe, was Colom’s insistence that the case be presented to a Lowndes County grand jury. Without that assurance, the special prosecutor would have been able to determine whether the evidence provided by the MBI warranted pursuing — or not pursuing — criminal charges. We believe the grand jury process is important in such an emotionally-charged case.
We also applaud the community, especially those who feel Ball’s death was a criminal act, for their patience during this long process.
We need not look far to note that this is not always the case. Recent officer-involved shooting deaths in Tupelo and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has led to protests and deep divisions in the community.
No matter your opinion of what happened on the night of Oct. 16, the overwhelming priority is that this case be conducted thoroughly and fairly to reach a just conclusion.
We believe Colom’s decision to remove his office from the case serves that purpose.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.