Georgia man offered $350K settlement in police takedown

VALDOSTA, Ga. — Officials in a south Georgia city have offered a $350,000 settlement to a Black man who was injured last year when he was slammed to the ground by a police officer who later said he mistakenly believed the man had an outstanding arrest warrant.

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The Valdosta City Council on Thursday approved the settlement and will create a citizen review board to help oversee the local police department and make policy recommendations, The Associated Press reported.

Antonio Arnelo Smith, 47, sued the Valdosta Police Department and other city officials in U.S. District Court last year, alleging excessive use, the Valdosta Daily Times reported. Smith also claimed his civil rights were violated on Feb. 8, 2020, when then-Sgt. Billy Wheeler slammed him to the ground, breaking his wrist, the newspaper reported.

Other defendants listed in the lawsuit were Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson, Valdosta Police Chief Leslie Manahan and Valdosta police officer Dominic Henry individually as well as members of the Valdosta City Council, and officers Patrick Barrett and Hudson Durden, according to the Times.

Smith’s lawsuit alleges that police misidentified him as a suspect wanted on an outstanding warrant, the newspaper reported.

A police body camera recording of the incident showed Smith talking cooperatively with a Black police officer as Wheeler came up behind him, pinned Smith’s hands behind his back and threw him face-first to the ground, the AP reported.

“Oh my God, you broke my wrist!” Smith was heard on the video as two more white Valdosta officers held him down and handcuffed him. When an officer told Smith he was being arrested on an outstanding warrant, another officer immediately interjected that he was the wrong man.

Police released Smith without pressing charges, and he left the scene without waiting for paramedics to arrive.

Ashlyn Johnson, a spokesperson for Valdosta City Hall, confirmed the settlement offer Friday. In exchange for $350,000 and the creation of the citizen review board, the offer said Smith will drop all claims in his lawsuit, the AP reported.

Nathaniel Haugabrook, one of Smith’s attorneys, said Friday that he was still reviewing the proposal.

“I imagine at this point it will move at lightning speed, in terms of a resolution,” Haugabrook told the AP, adding that Smith “wants to see all of this behind him.”