A 23-year-old Alabama police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man has been charged with murder, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s State Bureau of Investigation said in a statement Wednesday.
On Wednesday, District Attorney Daryl Bailey told Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange that the SBI believed it had established probable cause to arrest Montgomery Police Officer Aaron C. Smith in the shooting death of Gregory Gunn, Strange said in a statement.
“We believe it is essential for our community and for justice that the light of truth is brought in this case, as in every case,” Strange said.
On Feb. 25, Smith shot and killed 58-year-old Gunn in front of a neighbor’s house as he was walking home, the Associated Press reported. On Monday, Montgomery Police Chief Ernest Finley said Smith had deemed Gunn was acting “suspiciously,” but did not say what Smith found suspicious about him. Authorities initially said Gunn had a stick or cane and that the two became involved in a physical altercation before Smith shot him, the AP reported.
Smith was patrolling alone that night, according to the Montgomery Department of Public Safety.
DA Bailey said in a statement he would “do everything” in his power to protect a police officer who is acting within the law, but would also “use every ounce of” his power to prosecute a police officer who has acted outside of the law.
The case against Smith will be treated “as any other case,” Bailey continued.
Smith’s lawyer, Mickey McDermott, called Smith’s arrest “unjust” and described him as a “highly-decorated young officer who was working as a solo patrol in a high-crime district.”
“The suspect not only ran, but he fought,” McDermott said. “At some point in time the deceased armed himself with a deadly weapon and attempted to harm the officer.” He declined to elaborate on the nature of the deadly weapon but said that he believes Smith’s use of force was “justifiable.”
McDermott added: “We look forward to defending him in a court of a law. We believe he will be exonerated in a court of law, not in court of public opinion.”
Smith has been released from the Montgomery County jail, McDermott said. He is currently in hiding because he and his family have been receiving death threats following Gunn’s death, McDermott said.
Smith’s bail had been set for $150,000, the AP reported. It was posted by several different jurisdictions supporting him, McDermott said.
Smith continues to deny the charges against him and maintains his innocence, McDermott said. Smith has not yet entered a plea.
The Gunn family lawyer, Tyrone Means, disputed authorities’ claims that Gunn had a weapon on him when he was killed.
“It seems like it’s a desperate attempt to justify the unlawful killing of a human being,” Means said today.
Means said Gunn’s next-door neighbor, Colvin Hinson, ran to his front door to find Smith standing over Gunn with his firearm drawn after hearing a commotion. A post-mortem examination requested by Means showed that Gunn was shot five times, with the last two in a downward trajectory, meaning he was already on the ground, Means said.
“The shots that were fired to Mr. Gunn were not consistent with him attempting to attack in any way,” Means said, “nor was it consistent with him attempting to use any kind of weapon against [the officer].”
Gunn grew up in the neighborhood where he was killed, Means said, adding that he lived with his 87-year-old mother, who he cared and provided for.
Gunn’s death has reignited racial tensions in Montgomery. A city council meeting was halted Tuesday as protesters holding “Black Lives Matter” signs continuously interrupted the meeting, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.
Bailey addressed the rumors surrounding the case, saying that he will not be discussing the investigation outside the courtroom.
“… Most of the things you have heard reported by the news and on social media are completely untrue,” Bailey said.
The mayor said Smith’s arrest “is not an indictment of the Montgomery Police Department” and that “goodness and honor” still exist within the department. Bailey said he believes Gunn’s death is an “isolated incident” and asked the community not to criticize the city’s police department.
The Alabama SBI began the investigation into Gunn’s death at the request of the Montgomery Police Department, the bureau said. The SBI will turn over their findings to the district attorney.