Alabama officer faces murder charges for killing unarmed black man

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 02, 2016 4:42 PM

(Reuters) - A white Alabama police officer faces murder charges for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, authorities said on Wednesday.

Montgomery police officer Aaron "A.C." Smith, 23, is in state custody after investigators found "probable cause" that he broke the law when he shot and killed Gregory Gunn last Thursday, Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said.

Smith was being held on murder charges on Wednesday in lieu of $150,000 bond, Bailey said.

Gunn was shot at 3:20 a.m. local time in front of a Montgomery home, Bailey said. The case now goes to a grand jury, he said.

"As district attorney, I will do everything in my power to protect and support a police officer that is acting within the law," Bailey said. "I will also use every ounce of my power as district attorney to prosecute a police officer who has acted outside of the law."

Police killings of African-Americans, many of them unarmed, have sparked repeated protests over excessive use of force in the past few years.

Initial reports indicated Gunn may have been holding a stick or something that could have been used as a weapon, but Montgomery Police Chief Ernest Finley declined to confirm that in remarks to reporters on Wednesday.

"It's possible," Finley said. "At the end of the day, we're going to wait for the entire report from the DA's office or the SBI (State Bureau of Investigation)."

Mayor Todd Strange said he was not aware if there is any video of the incident.

Strange said the police department, composed of about 500 officers and 45 percent black, has made big strides in community relations over the years and will continue to reach out to citizens in the wake of the shooting.

"We have bridges to build again, but let's don't tear down what we have done," Strange said.

In front of the family home in Montgomery, a woman identified as Gunn's mother spoke to reporters.

"God is still in charge. And Heaven knows what happened," she said in a video posted by the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper. "Man may not know. Only one that did it and one that got done to. But Heaven knows."

(Reporting by Karen Brooks in Fort Worth, Texas and Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida; Editing by Tom Brown)