The officially-released facts in the killing of Greg Gunn last Thursday morning in Montgomery, Alabama are few and sometimes contradictory. One certainty is that no answer has been given as to what led at least one police officer to shoot this unarmed 59-year-old black resident of the Mobile Heights neighborhood five times during his walk home to his mother’s house. The lack of answers has led many in the community to speculate that this could be none other than cold-blooded murder in an instance of police brutality that was likely to be racially motivated.
According to the Montgomery Advertiser, which has been following this story closely:
Family and neighbors said Gunn was the guy everyone in the neighborhood knew on a first-name basis, who cut the grass for at least four neighbors, who walked the neighborhood often as he went back and forth to and from his girlfriend’s house. Gunn’s father was one of the original black officers on the MPD force and raised his children to respect cops.
They’re at a loss for how he wound up dead, killed by a cop.
By all reports, Gunn was a well-liked resident of the neighborhood where he had spent most of his life. He was outgoing, helpful, and also predictable. Many of his friends and family have detailed his usual routine of visiting his girlfriend by foot, returning home to his mother’s house around 3 am and going to work at 8 am, which is what witnesses say he was doing the night of his murder.
Multiple witnesses heard 4-5 gunshots, others were able to witness the killing. One neighbor Colvin Hinson, whose house Gunn died in front of, heard him call out for his mother’s help before the shots were fired. A female friend had been walking with Gunn only minutes before the incident as they were leaving a card game at Gunn’s girlfriend’s house together and says she is certain he was unarmed.
“He might run from them, but he wouldn’t attack one. No way,” Kenneth Gunn, Greg’s brother said. Family members say Greg Gunn respected and feared cops.
Protestors, including community members and Black Lives Matter activists gathered in Montgomery on Sunday to protest the tragic death of a peaceful black citizen. They were accompanied by state Rep. Alvin Holmes, who said he was there out of protest for “the execution of Mr. Gunn.”
County Commission Chairman, Elton Dean also gave a statement Sunday, reminding people that he did not want to indict all Montgomery police officers, but focus on the serious issue at hand. Afterall, Gunn’s father was a member of the force.
Dean, who represents the area, grew up around Mobile Heights and knew the Gunn family well. Greg was scared of guns and the police, Dean said.
“I want people to know Greg Gunn … his daddy taught his family about law enforcement. Not one of his children broke the law,” Dean said. “It’s Greg this time, but it could be somebody else the next time.”
Rep. Alvin Holmes: we are here to protest the Montgomery police officer's execution of Gregory Gunn. pic.twitter.com/7zCvKzSIdm
— Hannah Lane (@HannahLaneWSFA) February 28, 2016
Montgomery Police Chief Ernest Finley spoke to the press hours after the shooting on Thursday with a few scant facts about the investigation which leave more questions than they answer. Finley said only that Gunn was killed around 3:20 am after an encounter with an unnamed patrol officer who had been with the MPD for about four years.
“At this point in time what we have is we had a suspicious person, and the officer engaged that individual. There was a slight struggle that continued for about a block or so at which time the officer fired and shot and killed the suspect,” Finley said.
The Montgomery Advertiser points out that the MPD is required by law to withhold details about an ongoing investigation from the public. Members of the community will have to wait until the ALEA has completed the investigation to hear any of their findings.
Rep. John Knight hopes that body-cam evidence will provide the information the community needs to heal–and to prosecute Gunn’s killer to the fullest extent to the law. If the video recording is not intact and distributed to the public, a reaction could occur that echoes Ferguson.
“Over a year ago, the city announced they would have body cameras on all police officers, but now all of a sudden, they can’t find the body camera footage. We’re asking them to present to this community exactly what’s on the camera,” Knight said. “We can’t wait forever … we want transparency and we’re not going to tolerate a cover up on this.”
Knight calls for an investigation independent from the SBI, which he called “the political arm of the governor’s office.”
Several witnesses report seeing a body-cam lying on the ground at the scene of the crime. On Sunday, Rep. Holmes made a statement that they mayor’s office had told him that the body-cam had “malfunctioned.”
At a press conference today beginning at 12:30 PM, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange spoke to an audience at the city hall auditorium which was live tweeted by Josh Moon, a reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser. Strange confirmed the identity of the officer is A.C. Smith, hired in 2012. He confirmed that the officer is white.
The press conference began with a five minute moment of silence at the request of Franklin Gunn. The five minutes represent the time his brother didn’t get from the officer before his life was abruptly ended, Gunn explained.
Mayor Strange answered a question about A.C. Smith’s prior record in violence or racism, saying that the officer had not caused problems in the past. He alleges that reports that the body cam had malfunctioned or that the evidence was destroyed are also unfounded.
According to Strange, the reports of witnesses who saw two officers on the scene were false. He ascertained that another officer arrived shortly after the shooting but had not been present when Gunn was killed. After EMS was dispatched they arrived on the scene within four minutes, he says. Then Gunn was pronounced dead at the scene by EMS and the investigation went into the hands of the SBI from that moment on.
As one witness has stated, Greg Gunn was running toward his mother’s yard before two officers scuffled with him and dragged him into the neighbor’s yard, shooting him three times in the chest and twice in the back. Scott Muhammad was staying with a friend in a house across the street when he awoke to the commotion outside:
Muhammad says he saw the officer fire the shots. He quickly used his phone to record the aftermath on video. The video shows flashing blue lights and officers walking around. Muhammad thought it was “odd” the officer allegedly involved did not try to render immediate aid to Gunn but instead got on his police radio.
“He was on the ground already. He unloaded on him. Everybody around here knows each other. [Gunn] was coming from his girlfriend’s house two blocks away and walking to his mom’s house and was shot to death,” Muhammad said.
The mayor also contradicts a statement by Franklin Gunn that his brother was still alive by the time his mother and nephew arrived on the scene and for thirty minutes as he lay dying, Greg could be heard saying, “Mama, help me. I don’t want to die.” He claims that, by his mother’s report, the police would not let the ambulance near the dying man’s body after it arrived. Nor would officers allow the mother to come near or assist her son.
Gunn: my brother was tried at his home. He didn't get an opportunity.
— Josh Moon (@Josh_Moon) February 29, 2016
Gunn’s family believes that Greg had made it to his mother’s doorstep before he was dragged into his neighbor’s lawn and shot. He also says he was told that police used the neighbor’s hose to wash down the scene before the SBI arrived that afternoon. The Montgomery Police Department, he says, removed trash and debris from the crime scene and washed up blood.
While the mayor has urged the SBI to expedite the investigation, he explained at the press conference that the SBI is working at “full court press” but it will still take several weeks to conduct a thorough investigation.
Strange:we're not satisfied, we're frustrated. We don't control the investigation. We think many things that've been said but can't prove it
— Josh Moon (@Josh_Moon) February 29, 2016
From Moon’s tweets we can see Franklin Gunn, clearly upset by the mayor’s contradictory claims, angry and yelling during the news event.
— Josh Moon (@Josh_Moon) February 29, 2016
Gunn has stated that he believes the MPD may have invented the story that Greg was holding a stick, perhaps to match an object found on the Hinson property, a paint stick.
At a stop on the campaign trail for his wife, Bill Clinton referenced Gunn’s death in front of an audience at Alabama State University:
“As you found out, there’s still a very high level of violence involving encounters with the police that seem to disproportionately affect African Americans,” Clinton said, receiving shouts of agreement from the packed room. “I want police reform, but I also want to keep the peace … We need to put more police on the street, get more police in the neighborhoods where the people in the neighborhood meet with the police, they sit down together, they agree on what happened.”
In contrast, Chris Miles from the local Black Lives Matter organization also spoke today at City Hall, saying that he wants all white officers removed from black neighborhoods, a demand he also made at the protest Sunday:
“We want all white police officers from this point going forward, completely out of the black community,” Miles said. “We don’t want them patrolling the Black Community no more. Because, as the statement went out earlier, we’re either suspicious, or when something happened they were in fear of their life.”
“We don’t even feel safe at this point,” he said. “None of… I could go get any of these young men out here, and they will tell you that they are actually scared to come out of their doors. We can’t live like that.”
Other community members are in agreement that black residents feel targeted, followed, stalked, and harassed on a regular basis. Kevin Dacus, a resident of Mobile Heights, appears on video asking the police to leave the neighbors to police themselves.
The Gunn family will be represented by local attorney Tyrone Means. Means has requested that U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch send a special federal investigator to make sure the investigation is fair. It his his belief that Officer Smith did not comply with Alabama’s “stop and identify” laws and that the officer was in no risk of harm when he shot and killed Greg Gunn.