By Sheryl Estrada
A white police officer in Montgomery, Ala., has been charged with murder less than one week after he shot and killed an unarmed Black man who was walking to his mother’s house.
During a press conference Wednesday, Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said “probable cause” was found in an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation to arrest23-year-oldAaron C. Smith for the killing of58-year-oldGregory Gunn in front of his next door neighbor’s home in the Mobile Heights section of Montgomery on Feb. 25.
“The District Attorney’s Office has been in constant contact with SBI and has consulted with their agents throughout the investigation,”Bailey said.
Smith was booked in the Montgomery County Detention Facility with a $150,000 bond.
Hundreds attended Gunn’s funeral Saturday at True Divine Baptist Church in Montgomery. He was a graduate of Alabama State University (ASU) where he pledged the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and earned a degree in accounting. The provost of ASU, Leon Wilson, presented a resolution to Gunn’s family at the service.
“As a community caretaker who volunteered his time and efforts to help the elderly, and single mothers in a number of ways, including helping to keep their yards immaculate Alabama State University honors the memory of Gregory Gunn with this resolution,” Wilson said.
Montgomery Police officer Aaron Smith
Sometime after 3 a.m. onFeb. 25, Smith was patrolling alone inthepredominantly Black Montgomery neighborhood when he saw Gunn walking. Gunn familyattorney Tyrone C. Means said Gunn was coming from a friend’s house after a neighborhood game of cards following his shift at a grocery store. Means saidhe was headed to his mother’s home where he lived.
Smith thought Gunn was acting “suspicious,” officials said. He engaged Gunn, and there was a struggle followed by a shooting. Means said authorities had not told himwhat the suspicious activity entailed.
“Trayvon Martin was a Black kid walking in a predominantly white neighborhood, and someone just thought he looked suspicious,” Means told the Associated Press. “Greg Gunn was in a community in which he was well-known and well-loved. That’s scary.”
According to the Montgomery Advertiser, the gunshots came after Colvin Hinson and other neighbors heard Gunn banging on Hinson’s window and screaming his neighbor’s name.
“He was banging on the window and calling my name as loud as you could call it, his voice raising more and more,” Hinson said. “That was the only voice I heard. I didn’t hear anybody say, ‘Stop, halt, lay down.’ Nothing.
“By the time I got to the door, the officer was standing there, my neighbor lying dead.”
Gunn, whose father was one of the first Black men to be sworn into the city’s police force, died about 600 feet from his mother’s home.
Forensic pathologist Dr. James Lauridson said the results of an independent autopsy commissioned by the Gunn family found he was shot five times. As the investigation is ongoing, the state’s official autopsy has not yet been released. Once the investigation is completed, it will be turned over to a grand jury.
“The suspect not only ran, but he fought,” Smith’s attorney Mickey McDermott told ABC News. “At some point in time the deceased armed himself with a deadly weapon and attempted to harm the officer.”
Meansargued against authorities’ claims that Gunn had a weapon on him when he was killed. He said Smith fabricated that Gunn was wielding a paint pole lying in a neighbor’s yard.
“It seems like it’s a desperate attempt to justify the unlawful killing of a human being,” Means said.
He said the speedy arrest of Smith “is an indication of the strength of the evidence, and the city and county taking responsibility.”
McDermott believes Smithis a victim of political correctness.
“It simply boils down to a political calculation to placate activists, to prevent another Ferguson,” he said. “That’s just the world we’re living in now.”
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said Smith would be terminated from his position, which is city policy for any employee arrested for a felony.
“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 Wednesday. “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 [Montgomery Police Department] family.
“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.”
Smith maintains his innocence and has not yet entered a plea.
Hours before Gunn’s funeral began Saturday, a smallcrowd gathered outside of his home for a peaceful march. Nearly three dozen people walked through the neighborhood where residents held signs reading “Justice for Greg Gunn.” The crowd also sang “We Shall Overcome,” a song associated with the Civil Rights Movement, which activist Rosa Parks helped to begin on a bus in Montgomery in1955.
SPLC (@splcenter) March 5, 2016