Believing he was a wanted man, Valdosta officers slammed Antonio Arnelo Smith on the ground–only to quickly realize he was neither named nor implicated in their warrant.
A Black man who filed a lawsuit against a Georgia city and its police department after being violently tackled has accepted a probable six-figure settlement.
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Valdosta City Council approved an offer of $350,000 last week. However, attorneys for plaintiff Antonio Arnelo Smith—who filed his lawsuit in 2020—would not divulge the amount of money their client will receive. Instead, the lawyers said that Smith is “satisfied” with the settlement.
“We have reached a resolution, but we can’t discuss the actual settlement amount,” attorney Nathaniel Haugabrook told the Journal-Constitution.
Smith, notes the paper, had originally sought punitive damages of about $700l,000.
Alongside paying Smith an undisclosed amount, Valdosta also agreed to establish a citizens review board within four months. The board will be tasked with overseeing police policies and procedures, and will make any necessary recommendations for change.
In return, Smith will drop his charges against the city and its police department.
Haugabrook told the Journal-Constitution that, as happy as he and Smith are with the promised reforms, they hope the city and its citizens panel will take their responsibilities seriously.
“We’re very pleased that the city has agreed to do that, but I would say in addition to that, is that those who serve on the citizens review board—they need to take this position seriously, and take it to heart, because they are the ones who can help effectuate change,” he said.
The Valdosta Daily Times recounts the incident leading up to the lawsuit.
In June of 2020, a Valdosta police officer approached Smith, who had been walking on the side of a road. The officer said that he had a warrant for Smith’s arrest; he then grabbed Smith from behind, told him to put his hands behind his back, and threw him to the ground.
As more officers arrived on-scene, it quickly became apparent that the warrant neither named nor implicated Smith in any way.
While Smith was in obvious pain—and claimed to have suffered a broken wrist—he declined the officers’ offer for an ambulance, visibly upset that he had been baselessly targeted for arrest in the first place.
Haugabrook, adds The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said, now that Smith has accepted the settlement offer, he hopes to have the agreement finalized within 10 days.
Still, Hauabrook indicated that he believes law enforcement will only be changed for the better when local leaders stand up and take action.
“If we want to see change in how police address matters of this nature or deal with the citizenry, then it has to be changed at the top, and how do we effect change at the top, at the ballot box,” Haugabrook said. “I think it needs to be [further] addressed by those who represent us out of each district.”