(CNN) — Nellie Ruth Gunn wants justice for her son, who was shot dead last week by a Montgomery, Alabama, police officer.
She also wants the officer who shot him at his funeral.
“I want (the officer) to go to church with me,” the grieving mother said. “If it can’t be done, then well done and well good. But God knows and heaven knows.”
Her request for Officer Aaron “A.C.” Smith to attend the Saturday afternoon funeral for her son, Gregory Gunn, is complicated by the fact that Smith was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of murder. Another twist is that the victim’s father had been one of the first black police officers in Montgomery.
Gunn’s brother Kenneth has told CNN affiliate WSFA that Smith, who is white, approached the 59-year-old victim “not because he was doing anything wrong, but because he was black. He was black at 3 in the morning.”
Authorities have not laid out a motive in Gunn’s killing, nor have they divulged many details about how or why he died.
But in a news conference Wednesday, Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey did say his office and the Alabama State Bureau of Investigation found “probable cause … to make an arrest.”
“As district attorney, I will do everything in my power to protect a police officer who is operating within the law,” Bailey said. “I will also use every ounce of my power to prosecute a police officer who is acting outside the law.”
The prosecutor pointed out that the 23-year-old Smith remains innocent until proven guilty. And a grand jury will still get a chance, after weighing the evidence, to itself determine whether probable cause exists to indict the Montgomery officer.
Still, the fact that authorities acted this quickly — less than a week after Gunn was killed — to arrest a police officer sat well with the late man’s family.
“I’m pretty sure my uncle is smiling down that justice has been served,” Aaryn Jordan told WSFA. “Right is right, and wrong is wrong.”
Officer’s lawyer: Shooting was justified
It was around 3:20 a.m. on Thursday, February 25. After leaving his job at a grocery store, Gregory Gunn went to see his girlfriend and was taking a short walk home to his mother’s house to nap, shower, then head off to work again, his brother said.
Along the way, police — apparently thinking Gunn was suspicious — approached him on foot. Chief Ernest Finley said the officer may have believed Gunn was carrying a weapon (while his family acknowledges he may have had a stick or lawn tool, no one has indicated he had a firearm).
At some point, according to Finley, there was a struggle that continued down the street. That’s when and where Smith, the officer, shot and killed Gunn.
Smith’s lawyer, Mickey McDermott, alleged the shooting was justified after Gunn ran from the officer and then fought him.
“We’re sorry Mr. Gunn’s life was taken,” McDermott said as he stood with Smith, who joined the Montgomery police four years ago and was released from jail Wednesday on $150,000 bail. “But Mr. Gunn placed himself in a position to where this officer had to use the progressive levels of force that we train him in.”
Speaking after Wednesday’s arrest, Finley said Smith is on administrative leave and authorities have started the process to fire him.
The chief, who is African-American, expressed appreciation to state investigators and the district attorney’s office and voiced a desire to settle this matter through the legal system.
“I think it’s important to get the truth,” Finley said. “And (it’s important to know) the truth, and really dealing with the truth, and dealing with the community to let the community know that we stand for righteousness and correctness in all that we do.”
Victim’s sister: ‘Just sad’ for her family, officer’s kin
In a city with a rich and sometimes turbulent history — especially during the civil rights movement, in which blacks fought off segregation and discrimination — Mayor Todd Strange acknowledged Wednesday,”This is not one of our great days.”
In the next breath, Strange insisted he stands behind the legal process that led to Smith’s arrest and will continue along with the ongoing investigation.
“We believe it is essential for our community and for justice that the light of truth be brought in this case,” the mayor said. “We trusted the process last Thursday, we trusted the process today, and we will trust the process in the future.”
Strange and Bailey, the district attorney, both stressed that the circumstances surrounding Gunn’s death don’t reflect on the entire Montgomery police department.
“99.9% of the Montgomery police officers do an exceptional job on a daily basis protecting us in our community,” Bailey said, encouraging people to support rather than shun officers. “They are, in fact, the thin blue line between order and chaos.”
This sentiment was echoed in what some might consider a surprising place: the Montgomery neighborhood where Gunn was killed.
The family expressed appreciation for authorities’ efforts, as did neighbors like Colvin Hinson.
“I still need them to help keep my family safe,” Hinson told WSFA. “… I respect the police. And I hope they continue to respect me.”
And the victim’s sister lamented that the shooting had destroyed two families — her own, by taking the man she considered a second father and who “did everything for my son,” as well as relatives of Smith.
“I’ve been crying all day,” Kimberly Gunn told CNN. “I lost my brother and now someone else is going to lose a son. It’s just sad.”