An Alabama police officer who shot a Black man a few blocks from his mother’s home has been arrested and charged with murder, according to several media reports.
The Guardian reported that 23-year-old Montgomery police officer Aaron Smith was being held on a $150,000 bond. The details of Smith’s arrest were announced at a Wednesday press conference by Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey.
Bailey said police officers had to be held accountable when they broke the law.
“I will do everything in my power to protect a police officer who is operating within the law,” Bailey said. “I will also use every ounce of my power to prosecute a police officer who is acting outside of the law.”
Smith shot 58-year-old Gregory Gunn on the morning of Feb. 25. Smith encountered Gunn on a patrol while Gunn was walking home from a card game at a friend’s house. They got into a struggle and Smith used his taser several times. He shot Gunn as he was running away. Police claim Gunn was armed with a pole, but his friends said it was a painting stick. He was killed a few blocks from his mother’s home.
Montgomery police claim Smith encountered a “suspicious man” in a “high-crime neighborhood,” but Tyrone Means, an attorney for the Gunn family, objected to that description. Means told The Associated Press that Gunn was simply walking home in a neighborhood where he was well known.
“Trayvon Martin was a Black kid walking in a predominantly white neighborhood, and someone just thought he looked suspicious,” said Means. “Greg Gunn was in a community in which he was well-known and well-loved. That’s scary.”
Local police and Montgomery city officials are calling for calm. Tensions were high at a Tuesday city council meeting, which was protested by local activist Karen Jones, who held up a Black Lives Matter sign. According to The Guardian, Mayor Todd Strange called for a moment of prayer for both Smith and Gunn.
“This is a time of grief for the Gunn family as they prepare to lay a loved one to rest, and it’s also a challenging time for our city and the MPD family,” said Strange. “But we know our community is strong, we know that Montgomery is resilient, and we’ve come together before over very difficult issues, and we will come together now. We are people of law, that apply to all of us, and we must now trust in our system of justice.”
According to The Washington Post, Colvin Hinson, Gunn’s next-door neighbor, was angry with the police’s attitude. Montgomery police have blamed Gunn for his own death.
“I just want to know if the protocol is to shoot an unarmed man down dead in front of somebody’s house anytime they feel like it,” he said.
Smith’s attorney, Mickey McDermott, blamed his client’s arrest on the current social climate. He said Smith had been thrown to the wolves and his indictment should have been handled by a grand jury.
“This is a misuse of the process,” he told The Guardian. “But because of this social media culture that we’re living in, this officer was thrown under the bus. I assure you we are going to stop that bus.”