By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Franklin Gunn was driving through Washington D.C. when he got the news that the Montgomery Police officer who shot and killed his unarmed brother has been indicted for murder.
“Oh, man, I really appreciate you calling me and telling me this – it really does restore my faith some in the system and the county down there,” Gunn said. “I’ve got to make a bunch of phone calls now.”
Gunn’s brother, Gregory, was shot and killed by MPD officer Aaron Cody Smith last February.
Gregory Gunn was walking home in the early morning hours following a card game at a neighbor’s home when Smith, who was on patrol in Gunn’s Mobile Heights neighborhood, stopped him. Smith told investigators from the State Bureau of Investigations that he stopped Gunn because he was walking alone at night in dark clothes in a neighborhood with several reported car break-ins.
However, according to an SBI agent’s testimony at a March evidentiary hearing, Smith’s stop was not the routine stop-and-ask. Despite having no probable cause to stop Gunn, Smith had him place his hands on the hood and began to search him for weapons.
During that hearing, the SBI agent said Smith told them that when he went to check Gunn’s pocket on his sweatshirt, Gunn’s cell phone fell out of his pocket, at which point Gunn turned and ran.
Smith, who still had no probable cause to stop Gunn, gave chase, tackled Gunn and then, when Gunn got back to his feet and continued to run away, deployed a Taser three times. He also struck Gunn multiple times with a metal baton.
The chase ended near the front porch of Gunn’s next-door neighbor, who testified Gunn was banging on the front door and screaming for help. A short time later, the neighbor told police, he heard seven shots from Smith. Five of those struck Gunn, killing him.
During the hearing, SBI agent Jason DiNunzio said Smith told investigators that Gunn never made a threatening move toward him. He said Smith initially told them that Gunn picked up and swung a paint roller stick, but investigators were skeptical of that story because Gunn was still clutching his black cap in his hand when they examined his body at the scene. DiNunzio said Smith told them in a later interview that Gunn just grabbed the stick but never swung it.
Gunn’s shooting created a public outcry, as protests went on for several days. A week after the shooting, SBI and Montgomery District Attorney Daryl Bailey made the unusual call to arrest Smith. That arrest touched off anger within the MPD, as officers saw it as step outside the normal protocol of waiting on an indictment for an accused officer.
In the midst of it all, the Gunn family struggled with both Gregory’s death and the media and public attention. At a press conference with Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange and MPD Chief Earnest Finley, an emotional Franklin Gunn had a heated exchange with Strange.
The arrest of Smith a few days later helped quell much of the anger, except what was bubbling up within the police force. To address the officers’ issues with Smith’s arrest, Strange and the city agreed to use the City Investigations Office – a sort of internal affairs department that monitors complaints against MPD officers and serves as third-party investigators – to review the incident and determine if protocol was followed.
The results of that review have not yet been made public.
Gunn’s mother has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Smith and MPD. In addition to wrongful death, it accuses the police force of maintaining a policy of stopping citizens without probable cause – an allegation city and MPD officials don’t dispute but say isn’t illegal.
Smith’s indictment now moves the case towards a trial, but because of Alabama’s severely underfunded court system that has produced a large case backlog in larger counties, it could be more than a year before the case goes to trial.
“I know it will still be some time, but this definitely helps my family a great deal,” Franklin Gunn said. “This was a travesty – what occurred. I always thought the county was moving to make it right and this reinforces that for me.”