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Man sues Georgia police for excessive use of force after wrongfully arresting him

By Joshua Bote, USA Today

A Black man has sued a police department in Georgia for “unnecessary and excessive” use of force in a detainment from February.

Antonio Arnelo Smith, 47, filed a federal suit Friday alleging that Valdosta, Georgia, police officers injured him after body slamming him, and violated his civil rights when they wrongly detained him after identifying him as a suspect in a panhandling case. He is requesting $700,000 in compensation.

“From the moment Mr. Smith was slammed to the ground until he walked away, he cried and screamed in agonizing pain,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed against the officers and the city of Valdosta.

A statement by the city said that it “takes any report of any injury to a citizen seriously,” and said that Smith did not file a complaint with Valdosta police.

Per a police report obtained by the Valdosta Daily Times, a man, who was suspected of bothering customers outside a Walgreens, was wearing a brown hoodie and blue pants.

A patrolman approaches the man, who police identified as Smith. According to bodycam footage reviewed by USA TODAY, the man was wearing a red jacket and khaki pants.

An officer asks the man why he was at the Walgreens, and later asks for identification. Smith gives his ID to the officers. He explains that he was at the Walgreens to go to an in-store Western Union, waiting for his sister to wire him money.

“I’m not doing anything, I’ve been around cameras,” he said, telling officers to look at security footage recorded at the Walgreens.

A sergeant then arrives, immediately walking up to the man, grabbing him and restraining his arms in a “bear hug.” He instructs Smith three times to put his hands behind his back “like he’s told.”

(This view is from the sergeant’s body cam)

After the third instruction, the sergeant body slams Smith. He starts wailing in pain, exclaiming that the sergeant broke his wrist.

In the police account, the sergeant in question said Smith was “standing in a ‘bladed stance’ and he appeared to be arguing or debating with the patrolman.”

The sergeant then repeatedly tells him to relax, removing his cuffs and telling him that a warrant was issued for his arrest. Moments after, the patrolman who initially approached Smith informs the officers at the scene that they detained the wrong man.

“This is another guy,” the officer with the bodycam says. “The guy with the warrant’s over there.” They remove his cuffs.

Wheeler admits in the video that he thought Smith was “the guy with the warrants.”

The patrolman then clarifies the situation to the officers, and they let Smith stand up. Another officer tells Smith an ambulance is on its way.

“I was getting ready to put my hands behind my back,” Smith said. “He forcibly picked me up.”

The sergeant asks Smith whether he understood what had just taken place. Smith said yes, walking away from the scene. Smith was later hospitalized at South Georgia Medical Center, per the lawsuit, where he was diagnosed with “distal radial and ulnar fractures” and his arm was put in a sling before being released with pain medication.

Smith’s lawyer, Nathaniel Haugabrook, told the Valdosta Daily Times that officers violated Smith’s civil rights “to be free from an unlawful arrest, unlawful detention and all of the other rights that goes along with us being citizens.”

This article originally appeared in USA Today.

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