By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A Verona man is dead after a confrontation with a Tupelo Police officer on Monday morning at Barley Courts apartments.
Gregory Martinez Hughes, 22, was fatally shot after allegedly firing a shot at the officer at around 9 a.m. in South Tupelo, at the edge of Verona city limits. Hughes’ body will be sent to Jackson for an autopsy today.
Two Tupelo Police officers had come to the apartment complex off Highway 145 in response to an earlier call that gunshots had been fired.
Upon arriving, one of the officers confronted Hughes, who was armed with a small caliber handgun, said Trooper Ray Hall, public affairs officer for the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
“We know the suspect pulled his weapon and fired a shot at the officer who returned fire and fatally wounded the suspect,” Hall said.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation was called to handle the investigation because an officer was involved. The name of the officer who fired the shot was not released. He has been placed on administrative leave until the investigation is complete, Hall said, noting that is standard protocol when an officer is involved with a shooting.
Hughes was free on bond after being charged last year with aggravated assault, which involved an alleged shooting. Tupelo and Verona Police Departments had previously responded to several calls involving the suspect, Hall said.
Hughes’ great aunt, Janice Banks of Guntown, said he was a “sweet, young man,” before last year’s arrest. He was know to his friends as “Poo.”
“Until a year ago, he was a wonderful, sweet young man,” she said. “He was very fearful. He was bullied a lot. He wasn’t a fighter until he shot a guy last year.
“… I’m surprised by the way he turned. He was hanging with the wrong crowd. You can’t hang with the wrong people and not expect bad things to happen.”
Banks said Hughes was “very caring” and that he helped take care of his mother. He had three brothers and a daughter.
“He was great in art,” she said. “He could draw really well. He liked to draw people.”
Hughes’ uncle, Willie Fields, said Hughes – who would have turned 23 in October – was laid back as a younger child.
“He was really easy going as a kid,” Fields said. “As he grew up, he got more aggressive. He was a good kid until his teen years, and then he changed.
“He really had a hard life, family, education. He had to grow up before his time. His family was never stable. They were always moving around.”
Tupelo Police, Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Verona Police and MHP all responded after Hughes was shot. By a half-hour after the shooting, there were more than 20 law enforcement vehicles on the scene.
Meanwhile, about 100 people gathered in the parking lot of the Discount Tobacco Store and gas station across the street from the apartment complex. For several hours, police did not allow anyone to enter or leave the apartment complex while they worked their investigation.
The Rev. Chris Traylor, who is from Verona, came to the scene to help maintain order. He led a prayer with a large group of people in the gas station parking lot.
“I’ve been trying to keep everyone calm,” he said. “A lot of young people are very upset, and we’re trying to keep the community in order.”
The crowd began to disperse at around 1 p.m. By 3:30, the complex had seemingly returned to normal with cars entering and leaving and people milling around their apartments.
The shooting occurred in the staircase located in an outdoor corridor in the middle of Unit 1. Eyewitnesses said that Hughes was at the top of the stairs, on the upper-level landing just outside apartment number 6, and that the officer was at the bottom of the 15-step staircase. They said that Hughes fell down several concrete steps after he was shot.
Late in the afternoon, a couple of splashes of blood were evident on the black railing near the top of the stairs. The concrete landing below the stairwell was covered in water.
Hall said investigators did not discover any evidence of the earlier shooting that prompted the call for officers to visit the scene. It is not known whether Hughes had any involvement with that incident.
A neighbor said shootings happen often at the complex.
“Something has to be done,” said Carolynn Jones.
Investigators interviewed several witnesses, including residents of the apartment complex, and collected concrete evidence, Hall said. They’ll continue to conduct interviews over the next four or five days, Hall said, and will present their investigation to a grand jury.
No other suspects are involved with the incident, Hall said.