On Feb. 8 in Valdosta, Ga., white police officers walked up behind a Black man who was already being questioned by another police officer, who was also Black. One of the white officers, without even announcing his presence, grabbed the Black man from behind, commanded him to put his hands behind his back then, within seconds, lifted him up in the air and slammed him to the ground. The officers proceeded to arrest the man over an outstanding warrant—only they had the wrong guy. Now, he’s suing all four officers involved in the altercation, Valdosta’s police chief, the mayor and others alleging that police used excessive force and violated his civil rights.
The Associated Press reports that 46-year-old Antonio Arnelo Smith can be seen in video footage captured by the officers’ body cameras answering the Black officer’s questions and handing him his ID just before officers take him down from behind.
First, let’s start with the city’s report. From AP:
The city’s statement said police responding to a report that a man was harassing customers and asking for money outside the drug store simultaneously found two suspects nearby who fit the description. Officers questioning one of them learned he had an outstanding arrest warrant. The other was Smith.
The city’s statement says that an officer, identified in the lawsuit as Sgt. Billy Wheeler, approached Smith mistakenly believing he was the wanted man, and “advised him to place his hands behind his back.” Smith “began to resist by pulling his arms forward and tensing his body,” prompting Wheeler to take him to the ground, the city said.
Now, let’s talk about how that report is a picture-perfect example of why police accounts of events should never be taken as gospel.
According to AP, that only the footage from one of the four officer’s body cameras was initially released and, in that video, the takedown of Smith couldn’t be seen clearly because the camera was pinned to his back. But the footage coming from the officer who was originally questioning Smith shows what actually happened clear as day.
Wheeler can be seen silently walking up to Smith, bear-hugging him from behind and demanding he put his hands behind his back (even though he clearly has Smith’s arms pinned to his side). Before Smith has even had time to figure out what the fuck is going on (let alone react to Wheeler’s command), he was lifted up into the air and slammed to the ground.
Smith frantically cries out, “Oh my God, you broke my wrist!” to which Wheeler replies, “Yeah, he might be broke.” Soon after, officers remove the handcuffs from Smith’s wrists and call an ambulance.
After Smith asks why he’s being arrested, one of the officers tells him “We have a warrant for your arrest.” That’s when the Black officer, Dominic Henry, tells the officers they have the wrong man.
“Hey, this was another guy,” Henry says. “The guy with the warrant’s over there. No, there’s two different people.” After that, Smith was released.
Smith filed a federal lawsuit on June 19. One of his attorneys, Nathaniel Haugabrook, said Thursday of that the February incident “obviously it has some racial tones to it.”
“When you see that video, you can’t help but say this is a travesty,” Haugabrook said, AP reports. “Nobody should be done that way.”
Ashlyn Johnson, a spokeswoman for the city of Valdosta, was asked about the discrepancy between the police account of the altercation and what body-cam footage shows actually happened. She declined to speak on the matter but did offer up a useless ass statement that said, “The City of Valdosta and the Valdosta Police Department take any report of any injury to a citizen seriously.”
Yeah, but see the question was: Do you take your clearly lying ass cops making false reports seriously?
Anyway, Smith’s attorneys are asking for $700,000 in damages as well as “a commitment by the Valdosta Police Department to reform,” AP reports.
You can view footage from the incident below.