A Montgomery, Ala., police officer was sentenced to 14 years in prison after an incident in a high-crime neighborhood.
Cody Smith’s wife, Ashley, joined Liz Collin on her podcast to talk about the shooting, the court system, and the politics of the situation.
In February 2016, Cody Smith was assigned to a high-crime area.
“Cody was known for being very proactive on the streets as an officer and cleaning up areas that were high in crime. And so they had taken him out of his assigned district,” Ashley said.
He was patrolling a neighborhood one night when he came upon a man walking down the street around 2 a.m. He stopped the man, Gregory Gunn, who during the conversation continually put his hands in his hoodie. Cody decided to search him, and he at first was compliant.
Ex-police officer Cody Smith (photo provided to Alpha News)
Cody felt an object in the man’s front waistband area and called for backup just to be safe. As soon as he made the call, Ashley said, “Mr. Gunn shoved him and took off running.”
“The second that he shoved him, that changes everything. You know, that’s a charge right there,” she said. “You don’t put your hands on an officer. And so he pursued him. During the pursuit, he continued to reach into that waistband area.”
For his safety, Ashley said, Cody decided to tase Gunn, which he was unresponsive to four times.
“So he swapped to his baton,” Ashley said. “And he’s striking him in large muscle groups as trained in the academy with the baton. And he’s unresponsive to the baton.”
At this point they ended up on a front porch, and Gunn grabbed for a large, clanking object, which turned out to be a “steel-enforced painter’s pole,” Ashley said.
“He’s charging him with this pole, and at this point [Cody’s] used everything else. He’s used the taser, he’s used the baton, he’s put in a position where he has to draw his duty weapon to defend himself,” Ashley said.
“Because if Mr. Gunn had incapacitated Cody with this pole, he could have taken his own gun and used his own gun against him. In a scenario like that, they’re trained to respond.”
Cody shot Gunn, who died from the shooting.
After Cody radioed shots fired and medics attempted life-saving measures on Gunn, investigators told Cody this was a “clean shoot” and that he had followed his training. Everything would be okay, they said.
Cody provided a statement within a few hours of the shooting, which is not how officer-involved shootings are handled today, Ashley said.
“So he was initially told by investigators that he shouldn’t have a problem, that he followed his training. And then things shifted. The shooting happened on February 25 of 2016. And by March 2, they were arresting him and charging him with murder,” Ashley explained.
Photo provided to Alpha News
She said the Montgomery County district attorney was up for re-election, and she believes he prosecuted Cody to avoid damaging his reputation.
“[The shooting of Michael Brown in] Ferguson was not long before the situation with Cody. There was a lot of rioting and stuff still going on, a lot of heavy politics in terms of police use of force,” she said. “Our nation was just really taking a shift against law enforcement.”
Smith thinks the DA made his decision to prosecute “out of fear.”
“I think that they made a martyr, a political martyr out of my husband,” she said.
Three years after the shooting, Cody stood trial in 2019. A lot of factors contributed to the long wait, including a change of venue to a new county and several judges who recused themselves or were forced to recuse themselves from the case.
One judge refused to grant Cody an immunity hearing given to most uniformed officers, and then that judge was forced to recuse himself from the case, but Cody never had another chance at an immunity hearing, Ashley said.
“That’s probably been one of the most disappointing parts up until Cody’s conviction; if you have decided that this judge is not able to handle this case without a prejudiced opinion on the matter, how can you let the decision he’s made prior to that recusal stand?” Ashley said.
At the end of a jury trial that lasted five days, Cody was convicted of “heat of passion manslaughter” and acquitted of the murder charge. In January 2020, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison and immediately filed an appeal, which was denied.
He went to prison in May of 2020 after being out on bond for a few years and starting a new business with his wife. He was prematurely taken off bond and given a 10-day notice before he had to turn himself in, leaving his wife and three young daughters at home, Ashley said.
Ashley and Cody Smith (photo provided to Alpha News)
“But we just had to trust that God had a plan, and so that’s what we did and our church family just surrounded us with love and support and our family, you know, our families surrounded me and our girls … we prayed through it and he’s been gone and it’s been hard and we get to see him once a month,” Ashley said.
She obtained her real estate license to support her family. Once Cody was in prison, she began to speak out and advocate for him. Up until then, they had been told to “stay quiet.”
Now there is a renewed sense of hope for Cody — although the Alabama Supreme Court denied his appeal, they did cast doubt on the efficacy of his counsel and gave advice to the family to appeal based on the failures of his lawyers, Ashley said. The Smiths filed that petition last month and await the decision.
“If the facts of this case are as they appear … he shouldn’t be sitting in prison right now, and he should have never had a conviction at all,” Ashley said, paraphrasing the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling.
A foundation called the Pipe Hitter Foundation, which supports first responders in situations like Cody’s, reached out to Smith to support the family and tell their story.
“Stories like this being told is so important because I think it goes against the narrative that is so tremendously being pushed by the media and by politicians across the nation. I think it’s only fair that people see both sides of the situation,” Smith said.
This article originally appeared at Alpha News and was reprinted with permission.