The Georgia deputy who fatally shot a man previously released from prison after serving 16 years for a wrongful conviction has a history of violence and use of excessive force, it has been revealed.
Staff Sergeant Buck Aldridge, 41, of Camden County Sheriff’s department, had been involved in three separate incidents with another department in the state, after which he was fired.
Last month, Mr Aldridge shot and killed 53-year-old Leonard Cure following a traffic stop that quickly escalated. Following a struggle, Cure was tasered, struck with a baton and then shot dead by Mr Aldridge.
Cure had been released from prison in 2020 after his case was taken up by the Innocence Project of Florida, a nonprofit legal organisation that helps exonerate people who have been wrongfully convicted.
According to Mr Aldridge’s personnel file, obtained by the Associated Press, the deputy had been involved in four violent incidents prior to the death of Cure, three of which occurred while he was serving at the Kingsland Police Department, also in Georgia.
The former US Marine’s file shows he was disciplined for using unnecessary force in February 2014 and May 2017. The second time he was suspended for three days without pay.
The department fired Mr Aldridge for a third infraction just three months later.
According to the AP, police records say he was assisting with a traffic stop when he tried to handcuff a woman — not to arrest her, but to keep her outside her car. One deputy told investigators Mr Aldridge cuffed the woman after “picking her up and throwing her on the ground.” She was cited for letting an unlicensed person drive her car.
Mr Aldridge was hired by the Camden County sheriff’s office in May 2018.
Last year, the deputy dragged a driver from a car that crashed after fleeing from him on Georgia’s Interstate 95. Body and dash camera video obtained by the Associated Press show the driver on his back as Mr Aldridge punches him.
Records indicate the deputy faced no disciplinary action, the AP reported.
Last month, the Camden County Sheriff’s department released bodycam footage which showed the moments leading up to Cure’s death following the traffic stop.
In the footage, Cure is heard questioning why he was being arrested for allegedly driving “at 100mph”, telling the officer that he should just be given a speeding ticket.
The situation quickly escalates, with Cure being tasered before approaching Mr Aldridge and the pair tussle. Cure is then struck with a police baton while he grabs at the officer’s face and pushes his head back, saying “yeah b****”.
He is then shot from close range and falls to the ground, with Mr Aldridge shouting at him not to get up.
Prior to the public release of the footage, Cure’s mother and siblings attended the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s local office with their attorney, civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, to view the video.
“I don’t feel, no matter what happened, that he should have been killed,” Mary Cure said. “That’s the bottom line. His life should not have been taken.”
Cure was wrongfully convicted of armed robbery in 2004 and spent 16 years in a Florida prison before he was released three years ago.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) is investigating Cure’s death and will submit its findings to prosecutors. Mr Aldridge’s attorney said the video shows he fired in self-defence, though critics have questioned whether he should have been employed by the department at all, given his history of aggression.
“This guy should have never been on the force,” said Timothy Bessent Sr, president of Camden County’s NAACP chapter.
Mr Aldridge has been placed on administrative leave while the GBI investigates Cure’s death.
“Buck Aldridge is a fine officer and the video speaks for itself,” said Adrienne Browning, Aldridge’s attorney. “It’s clear his life was in danger and he defended himself.”
Experts told the Associated Press that they believe the shooting of Cure was legal, as Mr Aldridge appeared to be in danger when he fired. But they also criticised how Mr Aldridge had begun the encounter by shouting at Cure and then apparently making no effort to deescalate the situation.
“He escalated the situation with Mr Cure,” former Memphis police officer Thaddeus Johnson, a criminal justice professor at Georgia State University and a senior fellow for the Council on Criminal Justice told the AP. “He has no control over his emotions.”