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SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Body camera video shows Antonio Arnelo Smith handing his driver’s license to a Black police officer and answering questions cooperatively before a white officer walks up behind him, wraps him in a bear hug and slams him face-first to the ground.

“Oh my God, you broke my wrist!” the 46-year-old Black man screams as two more white Valdosta officers arrive, holding him down and handcuffing him following the takedown.

One eventually tells Smith he’s being arrested on an outstanding warrant, and is immediately corrected by the first officer: They’ve got the wrong man.

Clutching his wrist and whimpering, Smith was let go without charges after the violent encounter on Feb. 8 in Valdosta, Georgia, near the Florida state line.

Now he’s suing all four officers, as well as Valdosta’s police chief, mayor and others, saying police used excessive force and violated his civil rights.

“When you see that video, you can’t help but say this is a travesty,” said Nathaniel Haugabrook, one of Smith’s attorneys. “Nobody should be done that way.”

The federal lawsuit comes during a national outcry over police brutality against people of color, sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Haugabrook said police stopped Smith for questioning after a drug store employee reported him for panhandling outside.

“Obviously it has some racial tones to it,” Haugabrook said Thursday.

Smith’s encounter with police went largely unnoticed for more than four months, until he filed suit June 19. The city of Valdosta issued a statement three days after that, saying police are conducting an internal investigation and that Smith never filed a complaint.

City officials also released one of the four body camera recordings — that of the officer who grabbed Smith, which doesn’t show the takedown because the camera is pressed to Smith’s back. Valdosta officials didn’t release body camera videos with a clearer view until after the Valdosta Daily Times published one received from Smith’s attorneys.

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.

This is not an accurate description of what the officers’ body cameras recorded.

The video shows Wheeler walk up silently behind Smith, grab his right wrist and pin both of his arms to his sides in a bear hug. Only then does he order Smith to put his pinned hands behind his back, and Wheeler slams him to the ground almost immediately thereafter.

Asked about this discrepancy, a city spokeswoman, Ashlyn Johnson, said the city had no further comment. She said she did not know the status of the officers involved.

“The City of Valdosta and the Valdosta Police Department take any report of any injury to a citizen seriously,” the statement said.

The videos, recorded at noon on a clear, sunny day, show the encounter from beginning to end. Smith cries out in pain that his wrist is broken, and Wheeler says: “Yeah, he might be broke.” The officers remove the handcuffs within about a minute and call for an ambulance. Still on the ground, Smith asks why he’s being arrested.

“We have a warrant for your arrest,” one officer tells Smith.

That prompts the officer who first stopped Smith, identified in court records as Dominic Henry, to correct them.

“Hey, this was another guy,” Henry says. “The guy with the warrant’s over there. No, there’s two different people.”

Smith leaves the scene before paramedics arrive. His lawyer said Smith wanted to get away from the officers as quickly as possible, and the wrist never healed properly.

Smith’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeks unspecified monetary damages. In a letter sent to Valdosta officials seeking a settlement before the lawsuit was filed, Smith’s attorneys asked for $700,000. But he also wants something more, his lawyer said: A commitment by the Valdosta Police Department to reform.

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Letters: Native Land | Children at risk | Blaming Newsom wrong | Unpresidented | Debate conditions | Plan for future

Submit your letter to the editor via this form. Read more Letters to the Editor.

‘Native Land’ graffiti
reflects history, not hate

I am writing concerning the article published on 7/4/2020 “‘Native Land’ graffiti in Fremont mission being investigated as hate crime.”

It is outrageous that this would ever be considered a hate crime. Everyone living in the Bay Area who is not of indigenous descent is living on stolen native lands. The passage of time between when the original colonizers arrived to massacre indigenous people and forcibly convert survivors to their religion until now does not erase that fact.

Genocide is the epitome of a hate crime, and whoever graffitied “Native Lands” with a representation of the blood that colonizers spilled is representing history, not hate.

I suggest all non-indigenous residents take this as an opportunity to reflect on the reality that where we call our home was and is stolen from the Ohlone. Make a donation to a local indigenous organization and pay your small portion of the reparations due.

Nicole Rae

Does Trump care
about children?

President Trump says that reopening schools while ignoring CDC recommendations is necessary. He will withhold federal funds to schools that don’t agree.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says that anything less than a return to a full regular school schedule would fail students and taxpayers.

What kind of leaders are these? They want to prevent our public health authorities from taking care of our children? They disrespect the expertise of our best educators who know that a blended schedule (in-school and distance learning) is a sound and safe approach to reopening?

It’s as if the White House really doesn’t care about public school kids and their families. Why else would they substitute their judgment for those who clearly do care and dedicate their careers to families?

We know that Trump doesn’t care about migrant children. It just wasn’t clear that he holds all children in such low regard.

George Anich

Wrong to lay blame
for surge on Newsom

Daniel Borenstein is wrong to blame Gov. Newsom for the surge in Covid 19 cases in California (“Dining crackdown epitomizes Newsom’s chaotic COVID-19 plan,” July 8).

Agreed, Newsom’s recent call for varied stage openings is not coherent to businesses trying to keep up with the dynamics of public safety. But slamming Newsom for not communicating a “clear strategy” is disingenuous considering where Newsom has led us from the beginning of shelter-in-place.

Newsom kept these orders until some citizens in Southern California could no longer bear it; he released a six-point plan for reopening; he called for statewide mask use as the numbers started creeping up; and he ordered bars closed and renewed stay-at-home orders for the days heading into July 4th weekend. All of this while trying to mitigate counties with relatively low numbers versus hot spots.

Let’s face it, this surge is due to individual defiance, economic distress and lack of leadership from Washington.

Lan Hodges

Trump tweet coins
‘unpresidented’ word

When thinking about President Trump’s overwhelming failures of leadership and the need to vote him out of office to save the country, it occurred to me to give a new meaning to a word that he had created accidentally.

In December, he meant to tweet that some development was unprecedented, but he misspelled it as unpresidented. I propose that the new word unpresident be used henceforth as a verb to mean vote the incumbent president out of office, as in “Let’s unpresident Trump in November.” After we succeed we’d say, “We unpresidented Trump,” and historians might write that “voters gave many reasons for unpresidenting Trump.”

Of course, the word’s original form could also function as an adjective as in “Donald Trump, unpresidented and lonely, spent the remainder of his sad life insulting everyone, blaming others, denying responsibility and whining about his many grievances.”

Philip Shoemaker

Trump should set his
own debate conditions

I see Thomas Friedman would like two conditions met before Joe Biden comes out of the basement to debate President Trump (“Biden should only debate Trump under two conditions,” July 9). On the flip side, President Trump should request three conditions before the debate with Biden.

Here they are: 1. Get a neutral moderator not hostile to the president as in the past. 2. Ensure President Trump’s microphone is not tampered with to prevent clear communication from him. 3. Insist the debate topics are not given to Biden before the debate. (That’s you CNN.)

Let’s try to have a fair debate.

Robert Cummings

A consensus vision
for nation’s future

Some people don’t support the “Black Lives Matter” movement. To overcome this, elected and other leaders should think beyond the underlying reasons for this and create a vision that everyone can embrace.

Decades-long conversion from a manufacturing to a service/intellectual economy left many people behind (minorities more so) and enabled agitators to reignite people’s fears. A vision — a plan — for education, job training (including lucrative and essential trades), and social services that everyone can see as a way forward is the only way to achieve consensus.

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Yes, unjust laws need changing, and we need to “rethink” (a more accurate word than “defund”) our approach to law enforcement. But like statues, they are symptoms that can be cured as part of a larger vision that gives all people hope for the future. It will be costly, but I believe our future as a nation depends on it.

Donald Waters
Pleasant Hill

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