Police Abuse

Cop Arrested for Murder in Montgomery, Ala., City Opens Own Investigation to Placate Police

Aaron Smith was arrested for murder after shooting an unarmed man he said looked "suspicious."


The mayor of Montgomery has vowed to have the police department's internal affairs unit review evidence in the shooting of an unarmed Gregory Gunn by Officer Aaron Smith after Smith was arrested for the murder of Gunn.

The city handed the case over to the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), and Mayor Todd Strange still says that was the right decision. "We will not interfere with investigation," Strange said, according to the Montgomery Advertiser, which has been covering the shooting. "This is simply a review that can be done now to hopefully provide our people—our officers who are out there every day—provide them with some answers."

The city's other "people," actual residents, staged protests over the shooting. Police apologists insist the case should have went to a grand jury but the district attorney, Daryl Bailey, points out what happened "followed the normal pattern.

"If people will stop and think about this, there are many, many crimes, and several murders, every year, and in pretty much all of them, when the police identify a suspect and find probable cause to charge that person with a crime, they make the arrest," Bailey said. "It doesn't wait and go to the grand jury. This followed the normal pattern. We said we were going to treat this like any other case and that's what we've done."

City investigators won't have access to body camera footage or other recordings, which were handed over to SBI, and will rely only on written reports and testimony available to the department.

"(Cops) are unhappy, they are concerned, they are upset," the mayor said. "One of their brother officers has been arrested and they have no answers. They are accustomed to gathering the answers and solving these sorts of questions, and so they're in a very difficult position of not knowing.

The Advertiser also reported on rumors that the chief of police, Ernest Finley, was close to resigning. Mayor Strange addressed those too. "I called him and asked him," Strange said. "He was in the field walking neighborhoods. He asked how could these people be so vindictive. He told me he was taking notes on things that could be done to fix some problems once all of this died down."

Strange did not specify the kind of "fixes" Finley had in mind for strained community-police relations but steps by the Montgomery Police Department (MPD) so far don't offer much hope. The mayor, the police chief, and the city's director of public safety held meetings with Smith as well as the Gunn family. A photo of a smiling Finley meeting with Smith made its way to MPD's Facebook page with the hashtag #itsoktohitthelikebutton. The photo was removed after backlash, then returned without the hashtags in the description.

"Look through the archives at your paper and see if you can find a photo of the chief of police standing and smiling beside any other person who has been recently arrested for murder," the Gunn family's attorney told the Advertiser.

The unarmed Gunn, who was 58, was walking home late at night from a card game when Smith shot him in front of his neighbor's house. Smith insisted Gunn was acting "suspiciously" but did not elaborate. There will be a probable cause hearing on March 24.