A lawyer for a white Alabama police officer charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a black man has asked a judge to move the upcoming trial, saying the community is filled with “racial prejudice and hatred” toward the officer.
Montgomery police Officer Aaron Smith faces a murder charge for the February death of 58-year-old Greg Gunn. Smith’s lawyer filed a motion seeking a change of venue, saying it would be impossible for Smith to receive a fair trial in the Deep South city where emotionally charged protests took place in the wake of the shooting.
“Therefore, to ensure that Mr. Smith receives a fair trial from an impartial jury of his peers, it is imperative that this matter be transferred to another county whereas it is obvious that the Montgomery County community has been infested with racial prejudice and hatred toward Mr. Smith that cannot be cured in any manner,” lawyer Mickey McDermott wrote.
The shooting death roiled the city. Yellow lawns signs reading “Justice for Greg Gunn” lined the streets in the neighborhood where Gunn was shot. More than 200 mourners packed a memorial service for Gunn.
The motion included photographs of protesters holding Black Lives Matter signs outside Montgomery City Hall and news coverage of the shooting that emphasized Smith is white and Gunn was black and unarmed. McDermott argued that Smith was “publicly scrutinized by individuals within the community and political figures not based on the facts surrounding the incident but rather the color of his skin in comparison to the decedent.”
The judge didn’t immediately respond to the request.
The fatal confrontation began when the 23-year-old officer stopped Gunn as he was walking through his neighborhood shortly after 3 a.m.
Friends said Gunn was walking home from a weekly card game to the house he shared with his mother. McDermott said Smith was a young officer, patrolling by himself in a high crime district, when he stopped Gunn because he thought he was suspicious.
McDermott has contended Smith acted appropriately and was charged because of “emotion and politics.” Smith told investigators that Gunn ran, fought back and swung some sort of object at him.
A state investigator testified in a March hearing that Smith had given conflicting stories about what happened before he shot Gunn. The fatal confrontation was not captured on Smith’s body camera or dash camera because Smith did not activate his body camera or turn on his patrol car lights.