Things That Matter

A Police Officer Mistook A Black Man For A Suspect, Slammed Him To The Ground And Broke His Wrist

A federal lawsuit has been filed against a group of police officers who used excessive force on a Black man mistaken for a suspect. Antonio Arnelo Smith filed the lawsuit on Friday against the city of Valdosta, Georgia. In his suit, Smith is seeking compensation against Valdosta and its police department for a February incident which he says violated his constitutional rights.

Smith says that during the incident he was unlawfully detained and falsy arrested, among other offenses.

Smith is accusing Police Sgt. Billy Wheeler’s of “unnecessary and illegal” actions after he put him in “bear hug” despite the fact that there “was no reason to believe Mr. Smith had committed or was about to commit a crime, was armed or presented any kind of danger or threat to anyone.”

The lawsuit is also accusing three patrol officers of helping Wheeler detain Smith. The suit is also including the chief of police, the mayor of Valdosta, and six city council members as defendants.

The city released a statement in reaction to the lawsuit along with body camera footage taken from one of the officers who threw Smith to the ground.

“The City of Valdosta is fully committed to transparency,” the city said in the statement. “The City of Valdosta and the Valdosta Police Department takes any report of any injury to a citizen seriously.”

According to Buzzfeed “The city said that while no complaint was filed with the police department, the incident was reviewed internally. However, no action was taken against the officers involved after the review was completed.”

In reports about the Feb. 8 incident, two police officers involved in the incident responded to a report of a man harassing customers outside of a Walgreens and asking them for money. After one of the two officers encountered a Black man in the Walgreens parking lot and learned from dispatchers that he had active felony arrest warrants against him, the officer took the man into custody without questioning. The responding officer, Dominic Henry, left to check another part of the Walgreens building for the man in the 911 report of a man panhandling at Walgreens. When a customer pointed the officer in the direction of the alleged panhandling suspect, he approached Smith and told him that he was investigating “suspicious activity.” At the time, Smith said that he was waiting to receive money from his sister at a nearby Western Union.

He also told the officer that security cameras would back his claims. The footage and lawsuit claims that after Henry asked Smith for his identification he immediately complied. While their conversation took place, Wheeler came to the scene and mistook Smith as the suspect with outstanding arrest warrants. Wheeler walked up behind Smith as he was speaking with Henry, took hold of Smith’s arm, and put him in a “bear hug.” Ultimately the encounter resulted in Smith’s wrist being fractured.

The city claims that Wheeler asked Smith to place his hands behind his back and that he resisted the attack.

Watch the video and you’ll see Wheeler raise Smith up in the air and slam him to the ground.

In the video, Smith can be seen crying out in pain and asking “What are you doing?” According to BuzzFeed News, Smith’s lawyer said that he did not have the financial resources to seek treatment for his broken wrist. While Smith’s lawyer has said that Smith is not seeking to get the officers fired he is wanting to “help with this movement around the world to rectify police brutality… and for police reform and accountability.”

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