Georgia's Valdosta Police Department is being sued for a civil rights violation after officers wrongfully arrested a 46-year-old Black man.According to the Valdosta Daily Times, officers used excessive force on Antonio Arnelo Smith, who sustained a broken arm from the arrest, after he was mistaken for a suspect in a panhandling investigation in early February.
Smith is asking for $700,000 in punitive damages and compensation.
Upon request, he provided identification prior to the police sergeant arriving. The report states the sergeant walked up to Smith and reached for his wrist before wrapping his arms around the man, telling him to put his hands behind his back multiple times.After the third time, Smith is lifted and slammed to the ground. He is heard saying, ”I wasn’t doing anything.”
With officers mounted on his back, Smith also said “you broke my wrist. Oh my God, you broke my wrist,” through wails of pain.
Moments later, officers are heard telling him to relax, and they removed his cuffs as they noticed his signs of injury. The sergeant then mistakenly informs Smith that there’s a warrant for his arrest. The first officer to respond to the report that led to the confrontation with Smith then corrects him.
“This is another guy. The guy with the warrant’s over there,” the officer wearing the body camera said.
Smith was later hospitalized with “distal radial and ulnar fractures” and needed a sling for his arm.In the lawsuit filed on Friday, city council members, five members of the police department, including Police Chief Leslie Manahan, and Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson were named as defendants.
“Defendants’ actions, omissions and deliberate indifference to violations of clearly established constitutional rights caused Mr. Smith to suffer physical, mental and emotional injuries," the suit reads.On Monday, city officials said they knew about the lawsuit and told the Daily Times in a statement that "the city has not had time to review the document and therefore cannot comment on the content of the suit."
Later that afternoon, the city released a statement via its Facebook page with a detailed account of the incident. In the statement, the city said it “fully commits” to transparency and released the link to the body camera footage.“The City of Valdosta is fully committed to transparency. To achieve that goal, the VPD has released the full body camera footage of the responding officer which can be viewed on the city’s website. The City of Valdosta and the Valdosta Police Department takes any report of any injury to a citizen seriously. Although there was no complaint filed with VPD, Once the shift supervisor was notified it prompted the review process of the incident by the Officer’s Supervisor, Patrol Bureau Commander, Internal Affairs Division and Chief of Police," the post read.
The video the city shared on Facebook is five minutes and 42 seconds long, but Smith’s legal team sent a video to the Daily Times that is 11 minutes and 31 seconds long.In the police account, the sergeant in question said he was responding “in reference to a Black male disrupting the store and harassing customers.” He also stated that dispatchers radioed in the name of a person wanted in Cook County and the city of Valdosta.
As he approached Smith, the sergeant said he noticed the man being questioned was “standing with a ‘bladed’ stance and he appeared to be arguing or debating with" an officer.
“Based on what I observed and believing this person to have a warrant for his arrest, I grasped his right wrist. I felt Smith tense up and begin to pull away from me. At that time, I wrapped my arms around Smith in a ‘bear hug,’” the sergeant wrote in his report.
An administrative review of the officers' actions during the incident was conducted, and no further action was taken, the Daily Times reports.