Family of exonerated Black man killed by a Georgia deputy is suing him in federal court

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SAVANNAH, Ga. — The family of a Black man fatally shot by a Georgia deputy during an October traffic stop filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday seeking more than $16 million in damages, arguing the deputy used excessive force and the sheriff who employed him ignored the officer’s history of violence.

Leonard Cure, 53, was killed just three years after Florida authorities freed him from a 16-year imprisonment for a crime he did not commit.

The civil suit was filed in U.S. District Court four months after Cure was killed in a violent struggle that began after Camden County sheriff’s Staff Sgt. Buck Aldridge pulled him over for speeding on Interstate 95.

“It’s a terrible day when the citizens have to police the police,” Cure’s mother, Mary Cure, told a news conference Tuesday outside the federal courthouse in coastal Brunswick, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah.

The lawsuit names Aldridge and Camden County Sheriff Jim Proctor as defendants, saying they violated Cure’s constitutional rights. It alleges Aldridge used excessive force during the Oct. 16 traffic stop by shocking Cure with a Taser before Cure started fighting back.

And it says the sheriff created an “unnecessary danger and risk of serious harm or death, with deliberate indifference” by hiring Aldridge and keeping him in uniform despite prior instances of unlawful force.

An attorney for Aldridge, Adrienne Browning, declined to comment Tuesday. She has previously said he’s a “fine officer” who shot Cure in self-defense.

A spokesperson for Proctor, Capt. Larry Bruce, said the sheriff’s office does not comment on pending litigation. He said the sheriff had not yet retained a lawyer in the civil case.

Dash and body camera video of the shooting show Aldridge shocking Cure with a Taser after he refused to put his hands behind him to be cuffed. Cure fought back and had a hand at the deputy’s throat when Aldridge shot him point-blank.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was called in to investigate, which is common practice in the state for shootings involving law enforcement officers. Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Keith Higgins is still reviewing the GBI’s findings and has not decided whether to seek criminal charges, spokesperson Cheryl Diprizio said.

“We don’t need to wait for the district attorney before we move forward,” said Harry Daniels, the civil rights attorney suing on behalf of Cure’s family.

Aldridge has been assigned to administrative duties with the sheriff’s fleet maintenance office pending a decision by prosecutors, Bruce said.

Relatives have said Cure likely resisted because of psychological trauma from his imprisonment in Florida for an armed robbery he did not commit. Officials exonerated and freed him in 2020.

The lawyers for Cure’s family say Sheriff Proctor should never have hired Aldridge, who was fired by the neighboring Kingsland Police Department in 2017 after being disciplined a third time for using excessive force. Personnel records show the sheriff hired him nine months later.

And video from a June 2022 chase that ended in a crash shows Aldridge punching a driver who is on his back as the deputy pulls him from a wrecked car. Records show no disciplinary actions against the deputy.

Three experts who reviewed video of the shooting told The Associated Press they believed it was legal, as Aldridge appeared to be in danger when he fired. But they also criticized how Aldridge began the encounter by shouting at Cure and said he made no effort to deescalate their confrontation.

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