Featured photo: Joe Lopez kneels next to his son Joseph Lopez’s grave on Dec. 6. Lopez was shot and killed by a Greensboro police officer on Nov. 19 after more than 20 officers responded to a 911 call where Lopez was allegedly living. Almost three weeks later, his father says he needs to know why his son was killed. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

(Correction 12/11/2021): A previous version of this article noted that Lopez had the right to view police body-worn camera footage from his son’s death. However, a provision in a new law which went into effect on Dec. 1, requires Lopez to petition a court to view the footage. The information has since been corrected in this piece.

As the superintendent of Lakeview Memorial Park, Joe Lopez has overseen the burial of hundreds of people on the property. He’s even interred a few family members on the site, including his own father and father-in-law, but on Dec. 5, Lopez buried someone he never thought he would have to.

“I never imagined that I would be burying my son,” Lopez said on Monday at the gravesite. “I was hoping that he would be burying me.”

Lopez grew up in Greensboro and attended Rankin Elementary School  and then Reidsville Middle and High Schools (courtesy photo)

On Nov. 19, Lopez’s son, 29-year-old Joseph Thomas Lee Lopez, was shot and killed by a Greensboro Police officer after a 911 call was issued to the house he was allegedly staying at. According to a public statement released by the Greensboro Police Department in the early hours of Nov. 20, officers responded to 3504 Cloverdale Drive on a wanted personal call. The statement notes that the resident at the address called police because Lopez was attempting to enter the house. After locating Lopez in a shed behind the home, GPD Officer ME Hamilton fired his gun and killed Lopez. Officers and EMS attempted life-saving measures before Lopez was pronounced dead onsite, according to the statement. Currently, the State Bureau of Investigation is conducting a criminal investigation into the incident and the professional standards division of the GPD is conducting an internal investigation to determine whether proper policies were followed. Hamilton joined the GPD in 2007 and currently works as part of the Special Operations Division. He has been placed on administrative leave, as is protocol any time an officer shoots someone.

None of this information was ever relayed to him, Lopez told TCB. The only contact he’s had with law enforcement was early Saturday morning when an officer called Lopez to tell him his son had been killed. They couldn’t answer any of his questions as to why or give him details on the events that led up to his son’s death, he said. Instead, the officer gave Lopez the contact information for a detective with the SBI, Scott Williams.

While Lopez has called Williams repeatedly in the several weeks since his son’s death, he said that he hasn’t gotten any of the answers he’s been looking for, like whether his son was armed, why the police were called and, most importantly, why he was shot and killed.

“They have not spoken to me at all,” Lopez said. “There’s nobody from the Greensboro Police Department that has reached out to talk to me.”

Lopez noted that the last time he spoke to Williams, the detective said that he was conducting an investigation into Joseph’s death and that he would interview the officers involved. He also told Lopez that all of the officers who had responded had already gotten lawyers and that he wouldn’t be able to interview them until after the holiday. That was two weeks ago.

“I called them up last Thursday and left them a message asking him if he had any results and I haven’t heard back,” Lopez said.

TCB left a message for Williams but did not receive a response in time for publication.

‘Why did they shoot him?’

According to the police incident report and details provided to TCB by police department public information officer, Ron Glenn, more than 20 officers responded to the call around 10:30 p.m. on Friday evening to the quiet neighborhood off of Lawndale Drive in Greensboro. (Correction Dec. 11, 2021): Officers who responded to the call were wearing body-worn cameras that, according to a new state law, Lopez has to petition a court to view. Prior to the provision in the new law which took effect on Dec. 1, Lopez could have requested to view it by asking the Greensboro Police Department for the footage, but Mayor Nancy Vaughan noted that Lopez never formally requested to see it before Dec. 1. Lopez told TCB that he spoke to SBI Detective Williams to see the footage and that Williams told him he “would look into it” but he never heard back. Now, Lopez said he is working with his attorney to get details that he’s been chasing for weeks.

“I’ve only talked to two people since my son died two weeks ago,” Lopez said. “Why did he shoot him? Just because he came out from behind a shed?”

None of the public details such as the incident report, the public statement and the responses from Glenn provide a full picture of what took place on Nov. 19. Lopez said he had spoken to his son a few hours earlier about going to the house to pick up some clothes. As far as Lopez knows, the 3504 Cloverdale Drive address is where his son was staying, presumably with his girlfriend. A news report by Fox 8 published on Nov. 15 appears to confirm that Lopez was at least temporarily staying at that address. According to the Fox 8 report, Lopez was pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy on the previous Monday, Nov. 15, for allegedly having a fake license plate. While the deputy was waiting for backup, Lopez allegedly got in the car and drove away, leaving a female passenger on the side of the road. Deputies then chased Lopez back to the Cloverdale Drive address which they obtained from the passenger who had been left behind. Once they got to the site, they found that Lopez had barricaded himself inside one of the rooms of the house in which guns were stored. Hours later, deputies convinced Lopez to exit the home and he was arrested. A search on the Sheriff’s Office database reflects that a Joseph Lopez was arrested on Nov. 15 around 9:40 a.m. for possession by felon of firearms. The Guilford County Sheriff’s Office did not provide TCB with the full incident report in time for publication.

Joseph Thomas Lee Lopez, known to family and friends as “Joe Bug,” was 29 years old when he died. On Dec. 20, he would have celebrated his 30th birthday. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

After his son was arrested, Lopez said he got a call from him later that day saying he was being released with a promise to appear for his court date. His son then asked him for some gas money and told him that he was staying with “his girl.” When it comes to the guns, Lopez also said that his son told him that while there were guns in the house, that they were locked, and he didn’t have a combination to the safe. Lopez said he has never known his son to own any guns. The public statement about the shooting on Friday did not state that Lopez was armed.

“I don’t know if he had a gun but if he had a gun, I think they would have put that out,” Lopez said. “So why did they shoot him?”

According to county records, the home at 3504 Cloverdale Drive is owned by Robert and Carolyn Anderson. During a visit to the home on Dec. 3, a woman, who said she did not own the house, was washing her car in the front yard. A young child and an older teenager looked on as the woman declined to answer questions about the shooting. In the backyard, a two-car garage and a small shed could be seen.

One of the questions that lingers in Lopez’s mind is why if officers were able to coax his son out of a room where he was supposedly armed on Monday, were they not able to do the same thing on Friday when he wasn’t armed?

“Why couldn’t you do anything other than shoot my son?” Lopez asked. “If there were 20 officers, why did only one choose to shoot my son?”

‘I’m not going to give up’

Red mud stained Lopez’s boots and his zip-up hoodie as he walked over to his son’s burial site on Monday. He pointed to the spot where his son rests, right behind the plot where his father, Francisco Lopez, lies. His father died last July, Lopez said. And now his son is dead too.

“He was the youngest,” said Lopez, who is also a father to two daughters. “And actually, his birthday is in 14 days, December 20. He was going to be 30 years old.”

The plot is small because Lopez had his son cremated and is located under a shade tree across from the lake for which the park is named. When he dies, Lopez said he’ll be buried right next to his son and his father. Until then, he said he’s going to fight to figure out exactly what happened to his son.

Joseph Lopez’s grave is located right behind his grandfather, Francisco Lopez’s at Lakeview Memorial Park. His father says when he dies, he’ll be buried right beside them. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

“I have more anger than I do pain,” he said as he looked out at the park. “Because I don’t know. I’m in a blind. I don’t know what happened to my son. I’m angry because they wouldn’t let me see my son to begin with. They shot him. And then it took a week to see my son and when they finally bring him, I’m too scared to look at my son. I mean, I’ve seen autopsies. They cut you all up. I don’t want to see my son, I don’t want to remember my son like that.”

Part of what has been bothering Lopez is wondering if his son’s race had anything to do with why he was killed.

“I hope that the system isn’t as broken as they say it is,” said Lopez, who is Mexican. “But my son should be here…. He shouldn’t be dead. It makes me feel like they’re trying to hide something.”

Working with his lawyer, Lopez said he plans to find out more about what happened to his son as well as seek justice for his death.

“If the officer shot my son for no reason, I do want him punished,” he said. “That’s wrongful death.”

While TCB has reported on numerous police killings, it remains rare that officers who shoot and kill are charged or even disciplined for their actions. And that’s even if the victim is in the midst of a crisis. In 2018, Greensboro police officers hogtied and killed Marcus Deon Smith, an unarmed Black man who was seeking help amidst a mental-health crisis in downtown Greensboro. None of the officers involved faced disciplinary actions for Smith’s death. The Smith family has since sued the city of Greensboro as well as the officers involved for their actions. The civil suit, filed in 2019, is ongoing. While it’s unclear whether Lopez suffered from a mental-health crisis when he was killed, his father told TCB that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a child.

Joseph Lopez went to Rankin Elementary School  and then Reidsville Middle and High Schools. He didn’t live with his parents recently, but his father said that he talked to him almost daily. In fact, he said his son texted him a few hours before he was killed telling him that he was okay and that he loved him. He also got a call from him right before he was killed around 10:30 p.m.

“He said, ‘Dad, they called the police on me again, I’m scared’” Lopez said. “That’s the last time I talked to him.”

Joseph Lopez holds his phone which displays the call log from the night when his son was killed. The log shows the last time Lopez spoke to his son, who called him after cops arrived on the scene. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Now Lopez says he stays up at night wondering what happened in the next few minutes after his son hung up on him that caused him to be killed.

“I don’t know why an officer felt like taking my son from me,” Lopez said. “I just don’t understand.”

And even though he’s dealing with his grief, Lopez said he’s not going to stop until he gets some answers.

“They probably think he’s just another Mexican kid,” Lopez said. “That nobody is thinking about him, that he’s just another person and let’s go on with it, but it’s not gonna be easy because I’m not going to give up until I find out why they killed my son.”

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

⚡ Join The Society ⚡