This is the story of former Montgomery (Alabama) Police Officer Aaron Cody Smith.
Smith was an officer with the Montgomery Police Department and was working night patrol in a high-crime area of Montgomery on February 25, 2016. Smith’s supervisor had ordered him “to stop anything and everything that moves in his district” in an effort to end a string of property crimes that had been taking place during Smith’s shift. Around 3:00 a.m., Smith drove past a man named Gregory Gunn. As soon as Gunn noticed Smith’s marked police car, he began walking away quickly, with his hands concealed in his pockets. Smith got out of his car and instructed Gunn to take his hands out of his pockets and to place them on the hood of the vehicle.
Gunn complied, and Smith began to perform a pat-down to ensure that Gunn was not armed. When Smith moved his right hand toward the front of Gunn’s waistband, he felt a hard object that he believed could be a gun. Before Smith could remove the object, Gunn rotated toward Smith and swatted his hand away. Smith pushed Gunn against the car to prevent him from reaching whatever it was that he had in his waistband and told Gunn that he was under arrest. Gunn began shouting at Smith, at which point Smith pulled out his Taser and called for backup. After he had finished radioing for backup, Smith holstered his Taser and put his hand back on Gunn’s waist. At that point, Gunn sidestepped toward the front of the car, shoved Smith, and took off running. Smith pursued Gunn on foot, instructing Gunn to show his hands and get on the ground, but Gunn ignored that order and continued to flee.
As he was fleeing, Gunn put his hands in his pockets, near the area of his pants where Smith had felt the hard object. Fearing that Gunn was about to reach for a weapon, Smith deployed his Taser on Gunn. The Taser caused Gunn to falter, but it did not stop him from running away. Smith discharged his Taser a second time, but again it was ineffective.
After the third discharge, Gunn said: “F*** your Taser, B****.”
Smith discharged his Taser a fourth and final time – again without effect – and then reholstered it. Smith chased Gunn as Gunn ran up the driveway of a nearby house, where a family was asleep inside. Smith attempted to subdue Gunn by using his collapsible baton, but Gunn continued to run, heading up the driveway and onto the front porch of the house. When Gunn reached the porch, he yelled: “All right, Police!” – a statement that Smith interpreted as a threat meaning: “All right … I’ve got something for you.” Gunn then moved to a dark area of the porch and grabbed a “clanking” metal object, which turned out to be a painter’s pole covered with yellow paint. Gunn bladed toward Smith, brandishing the pole in his hand. When Smith saw Gunn charging toward him, he holstered his baton, retrieved his firearm, and began backing away. Gunn raised the pole and lunged at Smith, who was backed into a support column and felt trapped on the porch. Because Gunn had armed himself and because Smith feared that his life was in jeopardy, as well as any other person that came in contact with Mr. Gunn, that their life was in jeopardy, Smith pulled out his firearm and “‘began firing toward the yellow pole. and Gunn’s hand.'” Gunn stumbled backward and fell to the ground. Smith went over to check on him and called for medical assistance, but the medics were unable to save Gunn’s life. An autopsy confirmed Smith’s version of events. It revealed that Gunn had been hit with multiple bullets that were concentrated on and around his weapon arm, that he had been on cocaine at the time of his death, and that there were yellow paint chips embedded in the hand that Smith had identified as Gunn’s weapon hand.
Smith was told by investigators within the department that it was a “clean shoot”, that he followed his training and department policy and he shouldn’t have any problems. But, within hours of the shooting, Smith was forced by the department to give a statement, as well as required to give multiple statements in the following days. Within 6 days of the shooting and before the investigation was fully complete, Smith was arrested and charged with murder.
Due to the political air across our nation at the time of the shooting, the city of Montgomery was afraid of riots and turmoil, so they decided to railroad an officer who was one of the best at his job and who followed his use of force training to a T. The Montgomery County District Attorney was up for re-election and saw prosecuting this officer as an opportunity to gain votes, with no care whatsoever to the life he was ruining in the process.
After 3 years of fighting within our extremely flawed justice system, Officer Smith finally stood trial in November of 2019 where he was convicted of the lesser included charge of heat of passion manslaughter and immediately taken to jail, his families hearts were shattered. In January of 2020 he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. His family immediately filed an appeal and he was released on an appeal bond in March of 2020.
After Covid wreaked havoc on our world this same year, it slowed the legal process down immensely. His family did not receive an answer from the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals until June 2021 where they affirmed the lower court’s conviction and denied his appeal. A request for a rehearing on the matter was asked, which they denied in February of 2022. Following the Court of Criminal Appeals decision to deny Cody’s appeal, the Montgomery County DA requested the court revoke Cody’s bond while his family appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. This request was granted and Cody has been incarcerated at Limestone Correctional Facility since May 09, 2022 leaving behind his wife Ashley and three (3) young daughters.
On December 9th, 2022, the family received the State Supreme Court’s ruling on his appeal. Although they denied his appeal due to technicalities in the filing, they have given his family the direction that they feel they should take in filing a Rule 32 petition against their representation. They stated that Cody’s case was a case of clear self defense, they don’t know how a properly instructed jury could have convicted him and that this was probably “the most astonishing failure they’ve ever seen in a criminal case”.
So, his family is going to fight and file a Rule 32!
But, years of fighting this legal injustice has devastated their family and left them in significant financial crisis as they continue paying legal fees in this next phase of efforts to appeal his conviction. As well as the costs to maintain our household with three children in his absence.
Every day that Cody sits in prison for a crime he didn’t commit is another day that lies and injustice prevail in a nation that claims “liberty and justice for all”.