Monday evening Mayor Todd Strange of Montgomery, Alabama said that city officials along with the Montgomery Police Department would begin their own investigation into the Feb. 25 officer-involved shooting death of Gregory Gunn. The officer was arrested and charged with murder last Wednesday.
Gunn, an unarmed 59-year-old black man with a highly favorable reputation in his community was shot and killed while appearing suspicious to the officer patrolling his neighborhood. After a brief confrontation, officer Aaron Smith fired on Gunn five times.
The plan to open the investigation themselves is a complete reversal of their original stance, which until Monday was to encourage patience as the State Bureau of Investigations handled the case. Now that the Mayor is reopening a MPD investigation, vital evidence which was turned over to the SBI on the scene, such as the body camera Smith was wearing during the shooting and the patrol car dash cam will be absent.
The Montgomery Advertiser reports that the mayor met with city and police officials along with small groups of officers and from their conversations decided to open an investigation through the office of City Investigations, which works similarly to an internal affairs division. The office is run by returned Air Force General Ron Sams.
City Investigations will have less evidence to review than the SBI and will focus on the evidence the MPD has on hand, such as witness statements and radio call recordings. Strange said that this will be a separate investigation that will not review or pass judgment on the work done by the SBI.
“(MPD officers) are unhappy, they are concerned, they are upset,” Strange 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. We turned the investigation over to (the SBI), and it was the right move to make, but with it we also turned over access to information. We can’t provide our people answers.
“We will not interfere with (SBI’s) investigation. 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.”
Aaron Smith’s defense attorney, Mickey McDermott has accused the MPD and Mayor Strange of arresting his client as a political tool to quiet protest. After the shooting, activists united around police brutality and civil rights causes such as Black Lives Matter, demanding answers and accountability.
Now the Mayor appears to be sending the mixed message that police chief Ernest Finley can’t stand behind his findings of “probable cause” when the arrest warrant was issued last week.