- Associated Press - Sunday, March 27, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A hearing on the murder charge against a Montgomery police officer accused of killing an unarmed black man answered some questions about the case but left others unresolved.

Jason DiNunzio, the State Bureau of Investigation’s lead agent on the case, was the state’s sole witness against officer Aaron Smith during the hearing Thursday. His testimony shed new light on the death of Greg Gunn.

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THE SHOOTING:

On Thursday, Feb. 25, the Montgomery Police Department reported Smith “approached a suspicious person” and shot 58-year-old Gunn after a struggle ensued around 3:25 a.m. Gunn was pronounced dead on the scene, yards away from the house he lived with his mother. Gunn’s family said he was walking home from a friend’s house.

Investigators found seven shell casings at the crime scene. The state’s official autopsy has not been released, but an independent autopsy commissioned by the Gunn family reported five gunshot wounds.

Police initially said Gunn was carrying some sort of stick or pole. A neighbor told The Associated Press he had an “extendable paint stick” lying in his front yard. DiNunzio said the stick was found lying next to Gunn’s body, and SBI found no fingerprints on it.

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THE ORIGINAL ENCOUNTER:

Smith stopped Gunn because he was outside late at night, DiNunzio testified.

Smith was on patrol by himself when he saw Gunn walking down the sidewalk. Nothing was suspicious about Gunn, DiNunzio said, but Smith said he would have stopped anyone in the area for a field interview. Smith’s attorney, Mickey McDermott, said Smith was aware of a rash of burglaries in the area.

DiNunzio told the court that field interviews are often conversational, but Smith immediately told Gunn to put his hands on the hood of the patrol car. When Smith moved to conduct a pat-down, Gunn fled, dropping a cell phone. Smith gave chase. Shattered glass was found next to Gunn’s cell phone, which DiNunzio said could have been a crack pipe.

Smith deployed his taser three times, to no apparent effect, before using a metal baton to hit Gunn.

Gunn never attempted to fight back or gain control of Smith’s taser, baton or gun, DiNunzio said. McDermott said Gunn made physical contact with Smith, possibly elbowing him, when he ran from the patrol car.

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CONFLICTING STATEMENTS:

Smith gave differing accounts of what happened over the course of two interviews, DiNunzio testified.

In his first interview, Smith told DiNunzio that Gunn tripped while running and the two physically wrestled at some point in the middle of the chase. At the end of the chase, while on a neighbor’s porch, Gunn picked up a pole and swung it at Smith’s head. Fearing for his life, Smith backed up and fired seven shots.

In the second interview, Smith said there was no physical struggle and said he wasn’t sure if Gunn had taken a swing at him. He maintained Gunn picked up the pole before he shot him.

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NO VIDEO:

Testimony revealed there is no video footage of the shooting.

Montgomery police officers are equipped with body and car cameras. The car dash cameras are activated when an officer turns on their blue lights. DiNunzio said because Smith was conducting a field interview, he did not turn on the car’s blue lights. Dash cameras can be activated manually, but Smith did not activate the camera or his body camera.

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THE NEXT STEP:

Smith’s case will now go before a grand jury, which will choose whether or not to indict him and send the case to trial.

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