WOODBINE, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia deputy fatally shot a Black man at point-blank range during a traffic stop after the man, who had been wrongfully imprisoned years ago, grabbed the officer by the neck and was forcing his head backward, according to video released by a sheriff Wednesday.
The family of Leonard Cure, 53, viewed the dash and body camera video before Camden County Sheriff Jim Proctor’s office posted it online. Relatives said they suspect Cure resisted being arrested because of psychological trauma from spending 16 years imprisoned in Florida for an armed robbery he didn’t commit.
“I believe there were possibly some issues going on, some mental issues with my brother,” Michael Cure said of his slain brother. “I know him quite well. The officer just triggered him, undoubtedly triggered him. It was excitement met with excitement.”
The sheriff released the video two days after one of his deputies, who is white, pulled over Cure’s pickup truck on suspicion of reckless driving and, after a struggle, fatally shot him on Interstate 95 a few miles north of the Georgia-Florida line. Cure had been visiting his mother in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and was returning to a home he bought recently in metro Atlanta.
The video shows the deputy shouting several times for Cure to get out of his vehicle. Cure exits from the driver’s-side door, but at first refuses a command to put his hands on the back of the truck.
“I ain’t doing (expletive),” he tells the deputy.
Cure complies after the deputy threatens to use a stun gun on him. With his hands on the truck, he questions why he was pulled over.
“You passed me doing 100 miles per hour (160 kph),” the deputy replies.
When Cure ignores commands to put his hands behind his back, the deputy fires his stun gun — shocking Cure with electrified prongs connected to the weapon by wires. The video shows Cure spin around and start flailing his arms, as if trying to break free of the wire.
Cure grabs the deputy as highway traffic speeds past them. Both men can be seen grappling with arms around each others’ necks. Cure gets a hand on the deputy’s lower face and neck and begins forcing his head backward. The deputy strikes Cure in the side with a baton, but Cure maintains his grip.
“Yeah, bitch!” Cure says. Then a single pop can be heard.
Cure slumps to the ground and the deputy can be seen holding his handgun. He shouts at Cure to stay on the ground, then raises his radio.
“Shots fired, suspect down!” the deputy says. “Send help!”
The sheriff has placed the deputy, whose name has not been released, on administrative leave during a review by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is customary in Georgia for shootings involving law enforcement officers.
The agency will send its findings to Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Keith Higgins, who will determine whether to seek charges.
Higgins met with Cure’s family Wednesday after the video was released. But the prosecutor’s spokeswoman, Cheryl Diprizio, said he would not make a final decision until the bureau finishes its investigation.
Studies show Black Americans face a disproportionate risk of being killed by police or wrongfully convicted of crimes compared to white people. Both happened to Cure.
After viewing the video, Cure’s relatives said they still believe shooting him was unnecessary. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family, blamed the deputy for acting aggressively from the start and never attempting to de-escalate the conflict with Cure.
“He really should be alive,” Michael Cure said. “The officer hit him with his baton and he tased him, twice as a matter of fact. But he did not have to shoot him.”
Cure was wrongfully convicted of armed robbery in 2004 and was sentenced to life in prison in Florida, but authorities reviewing his case in 2020 concluded he didn’t commit the crime. He was released three years ago.
Cure’s mother and brothers said he lived in constant fear of being arrested and incarcerated again. Michael Cure said he’s confident that’s why his brother resisted arrest.
Before watching the video, Cure’s family held a news conference outside the Camden County courthouse. Mary Cure grasped a framed portrait of her slain son and said she knew when officers came to her Florida home Monday that he had been killed, even before they told her.
“I don’t feel, no matter what happened, that he should have been killed,” Mary Cure said.
When Cure was wrongfully imprisoned, the Innocence Project of Florida persuaded a case review unit of the Broward County prosecutor’s office to take a look at his case. That unit examined an ATM receipt and other evidence that Cure was miles away from the robbery. A judge vacated his conviction in 2020.
“He is someone that was failed by the system once and he has again been failed by the system. He’s been twice taken away from his family,” Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida, said Wednesday.
Miller said that for so many of his clients, including Cure, their biggest fear is that an officer will knock on their door or stop them while driving “without cause, for something they didn’t do, send them back right where they worked so hard to get out of.”
“I can only imagine that must have been what he was thinking during this traffic stop,” Miller said.
Associated Press reporter Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed to this report.