Featured photo: Joe Lopez, father of Joseph Lopez, listens to speakers during a press conference on June 6 at the Beloved Community Center. (photo by Juliet Coen)
A Guilford County grand jury has indicted a Greensboro police officer who shot and killed an unarmed Mexican man, Joseph Lopez, on Nov. 19, 2021. The indictment which was publicized in a short statement by District Attorney Avery Crump’s office on Monday afternoon, came just hours after Lopez’s father, Joe Lopez, and his team of lawyers held a public press conference at the Beloved Community Center earlier in the day, noting that they had filed a civil rights lawsuit against the officer involved as well as the Greensboro Police Department.
According to the memo put out by the DA’s office, Officer Matthew Edward Hamilton with the Greensboro Police Department was indicted “with the crime of manslaughter pursuant to NCGS 14-18.” The statute cited in the memo does not specify whether Hamilton was indicted on a voluntary or involuntary manslaughter charge.
“The indictment means that the grand jury found probable cause to support the crime alleged,” the memo states. “However, even after an indictment a person is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.”
A memo released by the Greensboro Police Department on Monday afternoon stated that “as a result of the indictment, effective June 6, 2022, Officer M.E. Hamilton was terminated from the agency.”
Less than five hours before the memo was released, Lopez gathered in the shady lawn behind the Beloved Community Center for a small press conference. He sat behind the podium in a light blue, short-sleeve, buttoned-up shirt, with slacks and his work boots. It’s been a long seven months for Lopez since his son was shot and killed by Officer Hamilton back in November. As first thoroughly reported by Triad City Beat, Lopez’s son was killed after officers responded to a 911 call that alleged that Lopez was attempting to enter a home. After locating Lopez in a shed behind the house, officer Hamilton fired his gun and killed Lopez.
During Monday morning’s press conference, Lopez’s attorneys, which include Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office in Chicago and local attorney Graham Holt, passed around a civil lawsuit that was filed in court just before the meeting. According to the filing, the attorneys are suing Hamilton as well as the City of Greensboro for “damages and other relief for the death of [Lopez’s] son.”
The nine-page report claims that Hamilton’s use of deadly force were “unnecessary, unreasonable and excessive because Joseph was unarmed, made no threats and presented no immediate danger to Hamilton or others.”
In a December 2021 interview with TCB from, father Joe Lopez described how he spoke to his son just a few hours before his death. Joseph had told him that he was going to the house to pick up some clothes because he was temporarily staying there. A few days before Joseph was killed, he was pulled over by Greensboro police and subsequently arrested after barricading himself in one of the rooms at the house where he would later be killed. One of the questions that Lopez keeps wondering why police were able to coax his son out of the house a few days earlier without incident, but didn’t do the same thing on the day he was killed.
Before the press conference on Monday, Lopez told TCB that he goes to his son’s grave, which is located at Lakeview Memorial Park where he works as the superintendent, every day to talk to him.
“I tell my wife, ‘I talked to my son every day and I can’t break that tradition now,’” he said. “So I go out every morning and I say goodbye to him every night.”
On why he decided to file a civil lawsuit, Lopez said that it’s because he wants some accountability and transparency about what happened to his son.
“[Officer Hamilton] is out there living a happy life and I’m out here living a miserable one,” Lopez said before news of the indictment had been released.
Later in the day, after news of the indictment, Lopez said that he’s grateful for the support of the community but that he’s still hurting.
“The people that are behind me are going to make the ride easier, but it’s not going to ease my pain,” Lopez said. “No matter what happens at the end of the day, I still don’t get to speak to my son anymore.”
Lopez said that he had received a call from DA Crump earlier in the day to notify him about the grand jury’s decision to indict and that he is scheduled to meet with Crump’s office in the next few weeks.
Lopez’s attorney, Flint Taylor, told TCB that the decision by the grand jury to indict after the morning’s press conference wasn’t just a coincidence.
“I feel that it’s more than sheer coincidence that this indictment came out within an hour or two from the time we had our press conference and we filed our complaint and called for the DA to do her duty and indict this officer,” Taylor said. “Also Graham had mentioned in court a month or so ago that we were going to file this complaint so the DA knew that we were going to take action even if she wasn’t. So, I feel that the power of the community and the lawsuit had an impact on the DA and pushed her to release this indictment and of course, we are very pleased that he has been indicted for manslaughter, and we will work with the DA to make sure that he is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Background on the case
According to the recently filed civil lawsuit, which describes police body-worn camera footage viewed by attorney Graham Holt, numerous GPD officers were called to 3504 Cloverdale Drive in Greensboro on the night of November 19, 2021. Shortly after arriving, police located Joseph Lopez in a small room located at the rear of a two-car garage and Hamilton approached the room with his police dog on a leash. As Hamilton stood next to the open door, he called inside stating, “Greensboro Police: If you’re in there, make yourself known.”
To that, Joseph replied, “Yes, I’m here.”
Then Hamilton said, “Come on out with your hands up or I’ll send my dog in there and he’ll bit you.”
Lopez then responded saying he would come out when it was “safe” to do so. Shortly thereafter, Hamilton released his police dog into the room where Joseph was sitting; the dog began attacking Lopez. The lawsuit then states that Hamilton “pulled his handgun from his holster, stepped into the room, and without saying anything, shot Joseph once square in the face with his service handgun.”
Joseph Lopez died on the scene as a result of a hollow-point gunshot wound.
After fatally shooting Joseph, Hamilton exclaims, “Oh shit… fuck,” according to the lawsuit.
According to a public records request by TCB, Hamilton has been on the Greensboro Police force since 2007 and worked as part of the Special Operations Division. He was placed on administrative leave after the shooting and was fired from the department on Monday. A public records request also shows that Hamilton was making $61,408 as of December 2021.
As Taylor read excerpts from the lawsuit filing and detailed the killing of his son at the press conference, Lopez covered his face with his hands and intermittently wiped the tears that welled out of his eyes. He still has not watched the police body-worn camera footage, which has yet to be released to all of Lopez’s lawyers. It’s a move that many parents of those killed by police, can’t bring themselves to make. In the case of Marcus Deon Smith, for example, mother Mary Smith has not watched the multiple videos that captured her son’s death. Smith filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Greensboro and the police department in 2018 which culminated in a settlement of $2.57 million just this past February. And as members of the community familiar with the Smith case gathered on the lawn on Monday morning to show support for Lopez and his family, many wondered again if the city would fight to keep details about what happened to Lopez’s child hidden from the public just as they had done in the Smith case.
“Here we are again,” said activist Hester Petty. “And it doesn’t seem to matter how many times we say, ‘Enough is enough,’ it never stops. It’s been going on for decades here in this city. But I’m ready to get back into the fight. Don’t want to, don’t want to keep doing this but this has got to stop, and it is going to have to be up to us because city council has done nothing for decades and the city manager’s office has nothing for decades. The police department has not changed for decades. So I’m making a vow to for myself that I’m going to do whatever is necessary to get justice for Joseph Lopez.”
And while it’s true that city officials have been relatively quiet on the murder of Marcus Deon Smith as well as the shooting of Fred Cox in High Point, the indictment of an officer in cases of police shootings is remarkably rare. In addition to the indictment, activist and former civil rights attorney Lewis Pitts brought up the point that a municipal election this year will determine who sits on city council, including the mayoral seat, for the next four years in Greensboro.
“I want to speak particularly to the moment in which yet another outrageous act of police, racist violence and cover-up is taking place,” Pitts said. “Our city is in the process of electing or unelecting every city council member. We have elections coming up in July. We have the clearest chance now to demand transformational leadership from our city council to put an end to this seemingly unspeakable pattern of racist violence…. And we are in the process of hiring a new chief of police. We can zero in on putting pressure on the city council because they hire a city manager who hires a chief of police.”
The next steps in the civil case, according to Taylor, is for the attorney’s team to receive more data about what happened to Lopez including the State Bureau of Investigation’s report as well as increased access to the body-worn camera footage. On the criminal side, the team is planning on meeting with the DA’s office in the next few weeks to proceed with the indictment and charging process for Officer Hamilton.
“It’s been extremely frustrating, painful, agonizing for Mr. Lopez, who has stepped up on behalf of his large family, a loving family,” Taylor said during the press conference. “To take on the burden of this lawsuit, the burden of getting to the bottom of what happened to his son, the burden of what getting…some modicum of justice, some modicum of transparency.”
This is a breaking story and will be updated as necessary. To learn more about the Lopez case, read past reporting here.
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Lewis Pitts and Guilford county DA do not like the police. They are both radical activist.