Although the heinous 2016 police shooting only garnered marginal national attention, eight judges refused to try the case. The trial venue was changed from a majority-black city to a rural, mostly white county…in Alabama. The defendant was a white cop who shot and killed a black man…in Alabama. Still, in less than two hours of deliberation, a majority-white jury convicted the officer for killing an unarmed black man…
The Montgomery Advertiser reports that, on Friday, 10 white jurors and four black jurors (including alternates) found Montgomery, Ala., police officer Aaron Cody Smith guilty of manslaughter four years after he tased, clubbed, shot and killed 58-year-old Greg Gunn for…well…literally nothing. The case sparked protests, outrage and calls for change but the only thing that changed was the location of the trial and the rarest of outcomes—a white police officer convicted for killing a black man.
On February 25, 2016, at 3:20 a.m., Gunn was walking home from a card game when Smith pulled up beside him in a police SUV. Smith said he stopped Gunn because he saw a “black male wearing dark clothing,” which fit the description of a burglary suspect. Smith alleged that Gunn put his hands in his pocket and began walking fast, which Smith called “suspicious.” Gunn stopped, complied with the illegal stop and allowed Smith to frisk him.
“He didn’t get out of the Tahoe and say, ‘Excuse me sir, I just want to check on you.’ He didn’t get out and go, ‘Excuse me sir, I’ve got some questions, would you mind talking to me?’ “ said Deputy District Attorney Ben McGough. “He didn’t do that because he had a badge and he had a gun. He immediately started barking orders at Greg Gunn, a man who had done nothing wrong and had committed no crime, a man who was bothering no one in the world.”
According to Smith’s testimony, Gunn smacked Smith’s hand away when touched something “hard” in his pants, so Smith tasered Gunn and Gunn “sidestepped” the officer and ran into his neighbor’s yard with Smith chasing him.
“Greg Gunn does not turn and charge the defendant,” said Deputy District Attorney Ben McGough. “He does not make a threat, he does not put up his fists. He doesn’t pick up a stick or a rock or pull a gun or knife, after being tased and beaten. Greg Gunn ran, and the defendant chased him.”
Then, Smith repeatedly beat Gunn with a baton, splitting Gunn’s head open.
So Gunn picked up a weapon…Maybe.
First, Smith said he wrestled Gunn to the ground and had to shoot Gunn. Then he said Gunn swung a stick—a painter’s extension—at him, forcing the cop to fear for his life. Then Smith told investigators that Gunn had just picked up the stick and was turning towards the officer. Then he said Gunn was reaching for the stick.
In either case, Smith shot Gunn five times.
Gunn was pronounced dead at the scene.
Almost everything Smith told investigators was a lie. He said he only hit Gunn with the baton in the arms and legs, but the autopsy proved otherwise. Gunn’s baseball cap was in his hand when he died, disproving the “stick” theory. Police didn’t find a weapon or anything “hard” in Gunn’s pants. Of course, the police bodycam footage would show everything.
Except, Smith never turned on his body-worn camera.
There were also no burglary reports in the area that evening.
After every single judge in Montgomery County, which is 57 percent black, either recused themselves or was conveniently removed from presiding over the trial, Smith’s lawyers secured a change of venue to Trump-supporting, rural Dale County, which is 70 percent white and one of the most conservative counties in Alabama.
It didn’t work.
Smith faces 20 years in prison. Prosecutors say they will seek the maximum penalty and fight any possible bail, which means Smith was immediately remanded into custody. This mean-spirited move meant Smith had to call his job from jail and tell his boss that he wouldn’t be able to work for his next shift.
“He needs to be in the county jail until he goes to prison, just like everybody else,” Bailey said.
When the jurors handed down the unanimous verdict, Smith was still employed by the Montgomery Police Department.