Protesters seek review board after Alabama police shooting

AP News
Posted: Mar 10, 2016 4:55 PM
Protesters seek review board after Alabama police shooting

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Protesters rallied Thursday outside Montgomery City Hall, saying they feel "alienated" by city officials after the fatal shooting of a local black man by a white police officer.

About two dozen people took part, holding signs reading "Justice for Greg Gunn" and "Black Lives Matter."

Officer Aaron Smith fatally shot Gunn on Feb. 25, officials have said. Smith was arrested and charged with murder less than a week later, a move the Gunn family called "progress" and Smith's attorney called a "political witch hunt."

Gunn, 58, was killed outside a neighbor's house after Smith spotted him walking in a residential neighborhood a little before 3:20 a.m. Police initially said Gunn had attacked Smith, but Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said he found probable cause to charge the officer with murder.

City officials said they handed over all evidence at the scene to the State Bureau of Investigations, which continues to examine the case. On Monday, Mayor Todd Strange announced the city's own internal investigation, a move that some locals criticized.

Protest organizer Larry Thomas said he believes the city's probe is an attempt to "derail" the judicial process and ongoing state investigation.

"I know that he (Smith) would never be charged if he didn't do anything wrong," Thomas said. "The district attorney had to have found probable cause. They're trying to derail that process. They don't want the legal system to run its course."

Thomas said the protesters would like to see the creation of an independent police review board with citizen input to help review complaints about officers, which are currently handled internally, and to provide input on police policy. Protesters also want the city's public safety director removed from the police department's chain of command.

Some have asserted that the overuse of "stop and identify" policies may have been a factor in Gunn's death.

"Law enforcement officers shouldn't be pulling people over or stopping people 'just because'," Thomas said. "Have a reason to stop someone. Be fair. Treat the people of Montgomery right."

The SBI and the district attorney's office remain tight-lipped on what evidence led to Smith's arrest. The mayor said his office has not been privy to SBI's or the district attorney's case and local police are "desperate for answers."

Gunn's family said Wednesday the probe is an attempt to "pander" to police.

Gunn family attorney Tyrone Means said Wednesday that the family's respect for the city and law enforcement "began to wane" when they saw a photo of Police Chief Ernest Finley and Smith with a caption expressing MPD's support for Smith.

Thomas doesn't fault the police department for standing behind their colleague, but said Smith "violated the rules."

"It's like how you support your child if your child messes up, you also discipline them," Thomas said. "If he's wrong, you show him the right way. A.C. Smith, he messed up. He took a man's life."