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City of Valdosta to create a Citizens Police Review Board under conditions of excessive force lawsuit settlement

Posted at 7:33 PM, Jun 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-15 19:33:40-04

VALDOSTA, Ga. (WTXL) — The city of Valdosta has reached a settlement agreement with the man officers wrongfully arrested, breaking his wrist in the process.

That February 2020 case of excessive force is now the reason Valdosta is in the early stages of creating a Police Review Board.

Antonio Smith filed a lawsuit against the city. That lawsuit alleges that on February 8, 2020, Smith was incorrectly identified as a suspect. During his arrest, his wrist was broken.

Valdosta City Council unanimously voted to accept the terms of a settlement agreement on June 10. That agreement grants Smith $350,000 and the promise to create a Citizens Police Review Board.

Antonio Smith's attorney Nathan Haugabrook called the promise of the Review Board a "major win."

"The Citizen Review Board was really the major thing that he was after and we just hope at this point that we can use this as a launching pad to help eradicate this type of behavior in these sort of incidents around the country," Haugabrook said.

This isn't the first of its kind for our area.

Seventy-two miles southwest of Valdosta, Tallahassee adopted its Citizens Police Review Board in September of 2020. That was a result of three deadly officer-involved shootings that year.

Valdosta's City Manager says the council hasn't met to lay out what its review board will look like.

Lowndes County NAACP President Darren Neal says he wants to serve on the board. He's also a retired cop.

"I think that I hold a neutral view that I can see both sides of the coin," he said.

Valdosta has 120 days to finalize the Review Board. Council members will meet again on June 24.

"I think that this is an opportunity to either make or break the system," said Neal.

In 2020, the VPD officer had to use force 42 times. That's an 82.6% increase compared to 2019.

Neal says what's most important is that the review board creates change that benefits Valdosta as a whole.