An Alabama police officer was arrested on murder charges Wednesday for shooting to death an unarmed man who was walking home from a card game at 3 a.m. last week.
It is not clear why Montgomery police officer Aaron Smith stopped Gregory Gunn last Thursday other than the 58-year-old man may have been carrying a retractable painter’s stick.
But even that is not certain. And it’s certainly not illegal.
All that is known now is that Smith chased Gunn down to his next door neighbor’s front porch and shot him several times as Gunn yelled out for his 87-year-old mother, whom he lived with.
Smith’s attorney, Mickey McDermott, justified the shooting by saying his client was patrolling a “high-crime area,” which just happened to be Gunn’s neighborhood.
According to the Montgomery Advertiser:
“We’ve had protests all over the city – there are people outside of my building protesting right now,” McDermott said. “They have sold out a good officer – a second generation officer whose parents were both in MPD. He was doing his job when a tragedy occurred, but Officer Smith followed protocol and followed his training.”
“Because of the staffing issues in this department, under this administration, you have a young, 23-year-old officer out there in a high-crime area on patrol on third shift by himself,” McDermott said. “But Officer Smith accepted this assignment and was doing his job.”
McDermott said Smith stopped Gunn and began a routine search when Gunn “broke and ran, and Officer Smith gave chase.” Over the next several seconds, McDermott said Smith fought with Gunn, used his Taser on Gunn six times and attempted to subdue him with his baton.
“After all of that, Mr. Gunn picked up a weapon and turned towards (Smith),” McDermott said. “He had no choice at that point but to use his firearm to protect himself. It is a terrible tragedy what occurred. But Mr. Gunn bears the responsibility for that tragedy, not this young officer.”
But Gunn’s father was also a Montgomery police officer, one of the first black police officers in the department.
Neighbors say Gunn became afraid after being confronted by the officer and ran onto the front porch of his next door neighbor and started banging on the window.
But Smith chased him down and shot him at least four times. One neighbor heard him call out for his mother.
According to the Washington Post:
“He was banging on the window and calling my name as loud as you could call it, his voice raising more and more,” Hinson (who lived in the house where Gunn was shot) told the Advertiser. “That was the only voice I heard. I didn’t hear anybody say, ‘Stop, halt, lay down.’ Nothing.”
Another neighbor, Scott Muhammad, said he spotted someone get “thrown around” and went outside to break up what he thought was a fight.
“It escalated. You could just feel the energy,” Muhammad told the Advertiser. “I turned around and told my wife to call the police. Then I saw him shoot four or five times and said, ‘Damn, that was the police.’”
He also said Gregory Gunn was shouting for help when he was shot.
“I saw when they killed him,” Muhammad said. “He was calling for his mother, his neighbor. He was knocking on the window.”
Gunn’s family said the painting stick was on the neighbor’s porch and police tried to pin it on him, but as mentioned, there is nothing illegal about carrying a painting stick in the first place.
Residents began protesting and the case was handed over to the State Bureau of Investigation, which made an arrest six days later.
Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey released this statement:
“SBI and I agreed at the beginning of this investigation that this case would be treated as any other case,” Bailey said. “We agreed that if there were probable cause that a crime had been committed then an arrest would be made. After meeting extensively with SBI agents, we have concluded that probable cause exists to make an arrest in this case.”
Bailey further noted that Smith’s arrest is not an indictment, and that the case is ongoing. However, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange is pursuing termination proceedings against Officer Smith. Per city policy termination proceedings must take place when a city employee is charged with a felony. The Grand Jury has yet to hear the evidence surrounding the arrest.
Smith’s bail was set at $150,000, and was able to bail out shortly thereafter, thanks to officers raising the money for him.
Below is a video from the Washington Post capturing the anger from the community addressing the Montgomery Police Department about the shooting.