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Timing of Montgomery police officer's arrest ignites debate

Published: Mar. 4, 2016 at 9:55 PM CST|Updated: Apr. 3, 2016 at 10:09 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The arrest of a Montgomery police officer on a murder charge this week has ignited debate about the timing of the arrest.

Aaron Smith is the police officer who shot and killed 59-year-old Gregory Gunn on McElvy Street in the Mobile Heights neighborhood on Feb. 25.

Authorities have declined to get into specifics as to what made Gunn "suspicious" to Smith and what started the deadly spiral.

Some wonder if Smith was arrested to keep the peace in black neighborhoods and tame emotions in the city.

"It was done so we wouldn't become another Ferguson. That whole mentality is what's placing [Smith] in danger," said Aaron Smith's attorney, Mickey McDermott.

Dr. Ralph Ioimo spent many years as a police officer in California and is now head of the Department of Justice and Safety at Auburn Montgomery.

"What happened here is highly unusual," Ioimo said.

Ioimo said he is surprised, not so much over whether Aaron Smith should be charged with murder but over the speed in which the decision was made. Smith's arrest came six days after the shooting and before any part of the case was presented to a Montgomery County grand jury.

"Why not complete the investigation? The officer wasn't going away. When you jump the gun it makes it seem like it was done for political reasons," Ioimo said.

Even the attorney representing Gregory Gunn's family says he was caught off guard.

"This is a fairly quick turnaround for a charge. Typically the local district attorney would not want to be at odds with the police department," said Tyrone Means.

To be fair, no one is suggesting or even hinting Daryl Bailey did anything wrong. They just find the process unusual.

"This is a complex case," Ioimo admitted.

District Attorney Daryl Bailey emailed the following statement Friday:

"This has nothing to do with keeping the peace, but has everything to do with doing what we think is right based on the facts and evidence that have been discovered. This was not an easy decision by anyone involved; not by SBI investigators most of whom are former Montgomery police officers, not by my investigators and certainly not by me. I am a huge supporter of law enforcement. But we are sworn to uphold the law and when the TRUE facts come out, I believe most will understand why we took the position that we did. I want to reiterate this arrest was not an indictment against MPD. 99.9% of MPD officers do an exceptional job on a daily basis making sure that our citizens are protected. They are, in fact, the 'thin blue line' between order and chaos. I encourage this community to rally around the police at this time and let them know they are appreciated. This is an isolated incident that will be dealt with as it should be in the criminal justice system."

The next step in the legal process for Aaron Smith is his preliminary hearing set for March 24.

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