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February 21, 2013

‘Everyone is hurting from this’: An Officer's Story

Alto officer describes — to Facebook friends — the struggles in wake of police-related shooting

ALTO — Town officials are remaining completely mum about the subject. But the social media posts of a respected Alto police officer indicate members of the city's very small department believe they have been horribly misjudged in the wake of an officer-related fatal shooting back in January.

Troy Ansley, 33, told friends on his Facebook page that Alto police officers are heartsick about the shooting death of James Eric Griffin, 48, but have been instructed not to publicly discuss either it or subsequent allegations of overly-aggressive police behavior by members of the community.

In late January, Brandon Michael Smith, an Alto officer with only five months of on-the-job police experience, shot and killed Griffin —  an Anderson Cherokee Community Enrichment Services patient believed to have been off his medication at the time.

The shooting happened down the road from a convenience store where Griffin displayed a machete tucked in his waistband to a store clerk as he stole a pack of cigarettes.

These Facebook exchanges  — which a Jacksonville Daily Progress reporter was able to access because his friend request was accepted by Ansley — tells a story much different than the tales of police brutality relayed to the media by members of Alto's African-American community.

Rather, Ansley describes a small, fledgling police department struggling against an incomprehensible backlash stemming from the shooting.

On Jan. 28, Ansley posted that Alto officers are dealing with more negativity right now than most departments and administrators have to handle in an entire career.

"First I want to say that my thoughts and prayers go out to the Griffin family," Ansley wrote. " … Sometimes in our career we have to make split-second choices in a life-and-death situation. We all pray it is not us nor our time to have to be in this situation. In any of these situations, we all must look at the cause of the event not just the situation. What could the community, family, friends, and us have done to prevent this tragic event? Only then can these situations be prevented. It is the responsibility of everyone to help people in need. All questions will be answered when the info is available. Please be patient until then is all that can be asked. Everyone is hurting from this."

Over the past week, and at Monday's city council meeting, residents of Alto's African-American community began expressing outrage that Smith — the officer who shot and killed Griffin — has been spotted around town patrolling in a police vehicle while still technically on administrative leave for the shooting.

City officials assured the many residents who attended that city council meeting that Smith would not be seen working on city property, at least until the investigation was completed. There also are allegations Smith — who, like Griffin, is black — uttered some kind of racial epithet during the shooting.

The residents who showed up at the meeting described to city officials, and later to reporters, that there is a growing problem with the way Alto police officers treat them. They contend officers demonstrate overly-aggressive, if not outright racist, behavior.

Rev. Herman Martin, of the Weeping Mary Baptist Church, specifically alleges that, "The police department has been using strong arm tactics" and that there have been several unwarranted taserings of black residents in the time since the shooting.

Alto Police Chief Jeremy Jackson and Alto Mayor O.T. Allen have not responded to requests for an interview about the shooting or the other allegations. The Jacksonville Daily Progress has submitted, but not received confirmation of, a Texas Open Records Act request to the city of Alto seeking all of Smith's disciplinary records as well as an accounting of all police tasings within the past two months.

On Facebook, Ansley relayed what he described as a sense of frustration with the entire situation.

"I have been through some very hard things in my life," he wrote. "My family has endured so much but tonight was definitely close to one of the hardest. To be called out and ridiculed in front of so many and it be so false it's unreal. Then, on top of that, not being able to say anything or even defend oneself. For it being totally false and non factual is hard to swallow."

A post from an FB friend on the subject lamented that there is much mistrust directed at police officers in general these days.

"More often and not, it's due to a lot of misinformation — or should I say, disinformation on the internet," the FB friend stated. "However, I would argue that many people who foster mistrust in police are all too often motivated by their own reasons. Sometimes it takes a wise man to step back and try to picture himself in the shoes of a police officer, face the dangers that the man in blue does, and decide whether he can measure up. Police work is not an easy job, and it takes courage to willingly put yourself in harm's way for the sake of the public good. A lot of people don't understand that."

Ansley on FB disputed that Alto police are acting overly-aggressive toward citizens.

"The 'aggressive' word is flung a lot, yet they can't say what is 'aggressive,'" Ansley said. "Because we do our jobs. That's not aggressive. We have gone after a few aggressively: The person who was breaking into (the homes of) our defenseless elder ladies, the one who was robbing everyone in town, and our drug dealers and trade. We have had open houses for the community, about to do a drug awareness program for the elementary school, I stop and talk to just about anyone I see, I offer a ride for those walking almost every shift. I get out and talk to people at the senior apartments weekly, and have cut a break to those in our little (town) a lot. We have tried to reach out but have gotten little response."

The effect that this negative perception has on Alto officers is very difficult to cope with, Ansley stated,

"They want to sling a disconnect at us," Ansley wrote. "Well I say come and join us then in our events. I say our door is always open and that the chief has advertised that since we started. Use it and come talk to us. Flag me down and talk to me if there is something you want to say. We serve our little community and I take pride in what I do. If there is a problem I ensure everyone it will be addressed."

Ansley — who also encouraged his FB friends to get out and vote on May 11 — also thanked them for their support on the matter.

"We could us a lot of it right now," he wrote. "Come to the next council meeting and express it. The council members that y'all elected could use hearing it."

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