Black man sues Valdosta Police Dept., claiming excessive force during arrest

A 46-year-old Black man who says his arm was broken during a February  arrest has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Valdosta Police Department, saying officers used excessive force when they mistook him for a wanted felon.

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The lawsuit, filed last Friday on behalf of Antonio Arnelo Smith, names Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson, members of the Valdosta City Council, Valdosta Police Chief Leslie Manahan, three Valdosta patrolmen and one police sergeant, according to the Valdosta Daily Times, which informed the city of the suit the day it was filed.

The city attorney was served with a copy of the action Monday.

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Nathaniel Haugabrook, Smith’s lawyer, said his arm was broken when one of the officers executed a take-down during the arrest, and that he has since been in physical therapy.

Smith is asking for compensation and punitive damages in the amount of $700,000, according to the Times. The suit also demands a jury trial.

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On Monday, Valdosta police released body camera footage of the incident on its website and YouTube, and also issued a statement on Facebook describing what led to the arrest of Smith outside a local Walgreens.

Customers called police that day and reported Smith for erratic behavior outside the store, but the responding officers misidentified him for someone with several active felony arrest warrants.

Officers were wearing active body cameras, which captured the arrest.

The suit states: “Defendants’ actions, omissions and deliberate indifference to violations of clearly established constitutional rights caused Mr. Smith to suffer physical, mental and emotional injuries,” the Times reported.

What police say happened 

The Valdosta Police Department issued a statement about the matter Monday on Facebook. On the date of Smith’s arrest, February 8, police said they received a call from the Walgreens in the 2800 block of North Ashley Street.

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Someone there reported a Black man outside the store harassing customers for money and talking loudly, but there was no report that an actual crime happened.

Two officers with the Valdosta Police Department arrived to find the suspect gone, so they split up to find him.

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A customer stopped one of the officers to provide a description, while the other officer searched the back of the building and encountered Smith.

At the same time, the officer speaking to the customer said he was able to quickly determine the suspect’s identity.

The officer radioed dispatch, saying the suspect had several active felony arrest warrants.

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Other police units hearing the communication about a wanted felon responded to the scene. One of the arriving officers saw Smith being questioned in the back of the store and immediately ordered him to put his hands behind his back, according to the statement.

The man resisted, according to the statement. The officer then took the man to the ground using a “physical control technique.”

Once subdued, Smith was placed in handcuffs, according to the statement.

Officers then noticed the take-down caused the man’s wrist to be injured, and said they removed the handcuffs and called for an ambulance, according to the statement.

That’s when the arresting officer learned Smith was not the man wanted for felonies. Smith declined treatment for his injuries and he was allowed to leave the Walgreens. The officer notified his supervisor about the incident.

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

Specifics of the lawsuit 

The suit was filed on grounds of "conspiracy to create a false report, excessive force, false detention, false arrest and assault and battery," the Times reported.

Smith’s lawyer said the arresting sergeant put Smith in a bear hug and then falsified his report by saying he informed Smith he was under arrest before slamming him to the ground.

“That’s not the case,” Haugabrook told the Times, adding there was no probable cause to arrest Smith.

The lawsuit said Smith suffered “distal radial and ulnar fractures” that required him to wear a sling and take pain medication. He was also referred to an orthopedic surgeon, the Times reported.

Haugabrook said Smith had the right “to be free from an unlawful arrest, unlawful detention and all of the other rights that goes along with us being citizens.”