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Wrongly arrested Black man said he knew he was going to be falsely accused as police approached him

Andrew Cuomo

As Valdosta police approached Antonio Smith, he was terrified and thought he was going to “get pinned for something I didn’t do,” he told CNN.

“Oh my God, it’s one of these days where they are going to probably arrest me, and take me off, and probably won’t find me anymore,” Smith said he was thinking as officers approached him in that February incident, he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Monday.

Smith, a Black man, is suing the Georgia city of Valdosta and numerous Valdosta Police Department officers for excessive force and for violating his civil rights after he was slammed to the ground as he was wrongly arrested.

Smith displayed his wrist to Cuomo, which was broken at the time and still has a large protrusion. Though Smith said he forgave the officers at the time, his attorney Nathaniel Haugabrook told Cuomo that he faults the second officer at the scene for escalating the situation into physical violence.

“The first officer, as the video shows, is having a pretty normal conversation with Mr. Smith,” Haugabrook said. “Mr. Smith complied with all of his directives, provided his ID, denied the situation of being the suspicious person, and you have another officer who comes on the scene and just takes over.”

The city attorney was served with a copy of the lawsuit last week, and “the city has not had time to review the document and therefore cannot comment on the content of the suit,” according to a VPD statement released the same day the suit was served.

CNN has reached out to the International Union of Police Associations.

Video shows the body slam

VPD released a five-minute body camera video of the incident from Sergeant Bill Wheeler, and Haugabrook sent CNN an 11-minute body camera video from Officer Dominic Henry.

The incident began on February 8 when a Walgreens employee called 911 because a man was asking customers for money, Haugabrook previously told CNN over the phone.

After one officer approached the man, another customer told a separate officer that the man who had been harassing them had walked down the street, Haugabrook said.

Smith was down the street when Henry approached him and asked for his identification, which Smith did, Haugabrook said.

Smith told Cuomo he was not doing anything wrong, just waiting for his sister to send him money. He also said that he told the officers at the time he was not doing anything wrong and told them to call his sister in Florida to confirm.

The video shows another officer, whose badge was visible in the video and was identified to CNN by Haugabrook as Wheeler, come up behind Smith and put him in a bear hug.

Smith asks, “What are you doing?”

Wheeler says, “Listen to him and put your hands behind your back,” before he slams him to the ground, gets on top of him and cuffs him.

The way Wheeler was holding Smith prohibited him from putting his hands behind his back and caused Smith’s wrist to break when he was slammed to the ground, Haugabrook said.

“I don’t think anyone can listen to his crying and wailing, the agony he’s in, without their heart dropping,” Haugabrook said of the video.

Haugabrook told CNN his client refused medical attention at the scene because he was scared and wanted to go home after the incident. Later in the evening Smith did go to a hospital where they confirmed that his wrist was broken, Haugabrook said.

While he’s on the ground, Smith is heard crying out, “Oh my God! You broke my wrist,” before an officer says, “Stop” and “It might be broke.”

Smith continues to cry and wail saying “Oh Jesus, it hurts,” over and over again before the officers take one cuff off.

“This is the other guy. The guy with the warrant is over there,” Henry tells the other three and points down the road.

‘We had the right person stopped’ but misunderstood information

Before the arrest, the body slam and the broken wrist, there was a misinterpretation of information over the police band.

Police responded to the Walgreens with information that an African American male wearing a brown hoodie and blue pants was harassing customers, Valdosta Police said in a statement posted to Facebook.

Two officers independently searching the scene found two different men who matched the description: one, who turned out not to be the man that the 911 call was made about, had felony warrants. And the other, who was the subject of the 911 call, did not.

But that information was misinterpreted.

“The responding officer believed this individual was the subject of the 911 call and was the individual with felony warrants,” the statement said. That officer approached and advised him to put his hands behind his back. When he pulled his arms forward and tensed his body, the officer “used a physical control technique to place the subject on the ground” to be handcuffed, the statement said.

While handcuffing Smith, the officer noticed that he appeared to have been injured and immediately removed handcuffs and requested the dispatcher to send emergency medical services, the statement said.

“We had the right person stopped, it’s just unfortunate that the communication, when you got multiple officers on the same call, there is some miscommunication during radio traffic. And those are things that yes, we can work on that as an agency, and work on continuing to train our officers better and better communication skills with each other. But again we did have the right guy stopped that was causing the problem at Walgreens, it’s just unfortunate he was not the one with the felony warrants,” Valdosta Police Chief Leslie Manahan told CNN affiliate WALB.

The police department said although it did not receive any filed complaints following the incident, the shift supervisor was nonetheless notified, prompting a review process of the incident by the officer’s supervisor, Patrol Bureau Commander, Internal Affairs Division and Chief of Police.

Smith was compliant and simply having a conversation when the incident occurred, Haugabrook told CNN. He also said there was no reason to use that level of force.

CNN has not been able to reach the officers or sergeant involved in the incident for comment.

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