NEW ORLEANS — A grand jury on Thursday declined to indict a white police officer who shot an elderly black man in the small Louisiana town of Homer in a case that heightened racial tension and sparked protests.
The panel returned a "no true bill," meaning the case won't go to trial, after considering and rejecting a range of charges including murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide against former police officer Tim Cox.
Many in the rural town of 3,800 were outraged by the shooting last February of Bernard Monroe, a 73-year-old left voiceless by cancer. Police said Monroe was armed when he was shot outside his home, but witnesses said he didn't have a weapon.
The grand jury heard testimony from 20 witnesses over two days, said Kurt Wall, director of the criminal division of the state attorney general's office. The attorney general handled the case after the local prosecutor recused himself.
"We believe it was a full, complete, accurate and thorough presentation conducted at a neutral site. We respect the grand jury's decision," Wall said.
An FBI spokeswoman said the bureau is continuing to investigate the case.
The leader of the local chapter of the NAACP was angered by the decision not to charge Cox.
"I am so disappointed," said the Rev. Willie Young Sr. "When you have 12 witnesses that say the man did not have a gun and he was gunned down by police, what are you supposed to believe. We are left with the belief that police in Homer have a license to kill."
Monroe was shot by Cox last Feb. 20 after Cox and another Homer police officer chased Monroe's son through the house and shocked the younger man with a stun gun in the yard, authorities said. Louisiana State Police, which investigated the shooting, have said Cox shot Bernard Monroe several times.
Monroe, who had recently left a hospice after recovering from cancer that left him voiceless, was outside his home with about a dozen family members for a cookout when the shooting occurred.
Cox and the other officer, Joey Henry, have since resigned.
Monroe's death heightened racial tensions in the town about 50 miles northeast of Shreveport. The Rev. Al Sharpton led about 150 people in a peaceful protest march in April.
Homer Police Chief Russell Mills said Thursday night that because of the civil litigation expected to come in the case, the city attorney had advised him not to comment.
"I wish I could," Mills said. "And someday I will."
After Thursday's decision, Police Chief Russell Mills did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
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Claiborne Parish District Attorney Johnathan Stewart turned the case over to Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell in December 2009, saying he wanted to avoid any appearance of favoritism or conflict of interest. His office is handling other criminal cases in which Cox and Henry are witnesses, and an assistant district attorney also serves as the town attorney for Homer.