A police officer in Alabama has been charged with murder after he shot an unarmed black man in Montgomery last week.
Officer Aaron “A.C” Smith has been charged with the murder of 59-year-old Gregory Gunn after an altercation between the pair ended when the police officer shot and killed Mr. Gunn. The decision to arrest Officer Smith comes after a short investigation by the State Bureau of Investigations and was announced by Montgomery County District Attorney (DA) Daryl Bailey on Wednesday, March 2.
NBC News reports that DA Bailey said that the investigating body and his own office had agreed that the case should be treated as any other that was bought before the DA and the evidence looked at dispassionately, and on that basis, they had decided that Officer Smith has a case to answer, as there is sufficient reason to believe that a crime has been committed.
“[The State Bureau of Investigations] and I agreed at the beginning of this investigation that this case would be treated as any other case,” Bailey said in a statement. “We agreed that if there were probable cause that a crime had been committed then an arrest would be made.”
Officer Smith is said to have been on his usual late night patrol when he saw Gunn walking through the neighbourhood at 3:20 a.m. There had been a recent spate of robberies in the area and the police officer thought that Gunn was acting suspiciously, although what exactly made Officer Smith suspicious has not been disclosed.
Officer Smith approached Gunn, and the two struggled for around 100 yards before the police officer shot the suspect. The police have reported that Officer Smith believed that force was necessary, as Gunn was struggling violently and was carrying a large stick that could have been used as a weapon. However, this claim has been refuted by a neighbour of Gunn’s, who claims that Gunn was carrying a lightweight paint roller handle which he was returning to him.
DA Bailey was quick to point out that the arrest of Officer Smith was not an indictment of the Montgomery Police Department, insisting that the department does a fine job and that they believe this to be an isolated incident within the local police force.
The murder charge has still drawn criticism from Officer Smith’s attorney, Mickey McDermott, who says that Smith “will not be sacrificed on an altar of political correctness.” McDermott goes on to claim that the decision to charge Officer Smith with murder is a politically motivated decision that undermines the Montgomery police force and goes against the spirit of justice.
This charge has been refuted by DA Bailey, who said in a press conference, “I will do everything in my power to protect a police officer who is operating within the law. I will also use every ounce of my power to prosecute a police officer who is acting outside of the law.”
Comparisons have been drawn between the case and the death of Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot by volunteer neighborhood watch officer George Zimmerman in 2012. Zimmerman was controversially cleared of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. Zimmerman claimed he had been acting in self-defense.
Tyrone Mears, the Gunn family solicitor, said, “Trayvon Martin was a black kid walking in a predominantly white neighborhood, and someone just thought he looked suspicious. Greg Gunn was in a community in which he was well-known and well-loved. That’s scary.”
Smith’s bail was set at $150,000 while he waits for the murder charge to be heard before a grand jury. He is said to have been a police officer for less four years, and no details have been released about his record of service. It is relatively rare for an officer to be charged with murder while in the course of his duties, with the Guardian estimating that there were almost a thousand deaths caused by officers in 2015 and only one resulted in a murder charge.
Whatever the result of the trial, the murder charge seems to have ended Officer Smith’s career with the police, as he is reportedly suspending while his termination is processed. However, that will likely be little consolation for the family of Gregory Gunn.
[Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images]