STARKVILLE, Miss. – A former police officer in a northeast Mississippi town has been indicted on aggravated assault charges after the June 2017 shooting of a man involved in a police chase.
An Oktibbeha County grand jury indicted 25-year-old Gary Wheeler. He turned himself in Monday and was released on $20,000 bail.
"This is a case we will definitely take to trial," Wheeler's lawyer, Rod Ray of Columbus, told the Starkville Daily News .
Wheeler is set for trial Oct. 25.
Then a Starkville police officer, Wheeler stands accused of shooting into the vehicle of Zyterrious Gandy.
Police say Gandy had robbed a convenience store and authorities chased him through Starkville early on a Saturday morning. When police tried to stop Gandy on a dead-end street, they say, he backed into a police car. Investigators have said that's when Wheeler fired. Gandy then drove into the porch of a house, and investigators have said more gunshots may have been fired then.
Gandy then drove behind the house, abandoned the stolen car he was driving and ran away, authorities said. He was quickly captured. Gandy survived wounds to his torso and legs. Gandy is charged with three counts of aggravated assault, grand larceny, malicious mischief and failing to stop when signaled by police.
Starkville Police Chief Frank Nichols told the Starkville Daily News Monday that Wheeler had been placed on paid leave after the shooting, then returned to duty for a short time before resigning. Wheeler was hired in April as a Mississippi State University police officer, but university spokesman Sid Salter said Wheeler resigned that post Monday.
The case was investigated by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and is being prosecuted by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood's office. Margaret Ann Morgan, a spokeswoman for Hood, declined to say why the office pursued charges against Wheeler.
Prosecutions of police officers for shooting at suspects are relatively rare in Mississippi.
Hood's office is prosecuting former Columbus officer Canyon Boykin, who has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter in a 2015 shooting death which sparked community protests. The attorney general's office also twice prosecuted Walter Grant on a manslaughter charge in a 2013 shooting death in Cleveland. Both of the Bolivar County sheriff's deputy's trials ended in hung juries, but Grant has been indicted in federal court on a charge of evidence tampering.