Leonard Cure (53) of Atlanta, Georgia, tragically lost his life on October 16 after being shot by Sergeant Buck Aldridge during a traffic stop. To make matters even more devastating, Cure, a free Black man, had been exonerated three years prior after serving 16 years (out of his life imprisonment sentence) in jail for an armed robbery crime that he did not commit. The way that Cure dreadfully met his fate is something that he should have never had to experience. Yet sadly, his experience is a microcosm of a terribly common reality by which a staggering number of Black people have been forced to live under America’s deeply entrenched legacy of systemic racism.
As mentioned, Cure had been convicted in 2004 of an armed robbery of a Walgreens in Dania Beach, Florida (that reportedly occurred in 2003) with possession of a firearm and assault with a firearm. It is understood that his official conviction came from a second jury after the first one resulted in a deadlock (Associated Press, 2023). Those of The Innocence Project of Florida (who had helped Cure in proving his innocence) report that despite having a solid alibi and there being no physical or forensic evidence connecting him to the crime, Cure was found guilty by that second jury and then sentenced to life in prison in Florida (Hernandez & Romo, 2023). Some suspect that his life sentence had been determined by the fact that he held previous convictions in “robbery, cocaine possession, and grand theft auto, though no crimes involving violence or use of a weapon” (Spivey, 2023).
Cure had fought tenaciously over the years to appeal his armed robbery conviction. As the first person to ever be exonerated by the Broward State’s Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit, Cure’s conviction was vacated (after the unit had asked a judge to release him), he was relieved of his life sentence and then released in 2020. In their examination into Cure’s case, Joe Hernandez and Vanessa Romo, Reporters of National Public Radio, emphasize how Broward’s conviction review team “raised questions about how [Cure] was identified as a suspect and included in a lineup in the initial investigation” (Hernandez & Romo, 2023). Writers of the Associated Press also describe how the review team (as noted earlier) “found ‘troubling’ revelation that Cure had solid alibis that were previously disregarded [with] no physical evidence or solid witnesses to put him at the scene” (Associated Press, 2023). These findings were reportedly reviewed by five local lawyers who concurred (Associated Press, 2023). In June of this year, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a claims bill granting Cure $817,000 in compensation (in addition to educational benefits) for his conviction and imprisonment – The Innocence Project of Florida reports that Cure received his compensation in August. While Cure, fortunately, received a formal apology from the State of Florida “for wrongfully taking his liberty” and was acknowledged for the injustice he suffered through compensation, I (and as others have done before me) urge the question, can an apology and compensation (regardless of the amount) ever truly repair the harm and trauma caused by wrongful imprisonment, let alone imprisonment in general? (Innocence Project of Florida).
What happened to Cure is frustrating, infuriating, and arguably, further proof of how broken America’s criminal justice system is and how oppressive its Prison Industrial Complex is. Now, concerning this most recent case (which resulted in his death), the question of whether Cure deserves sympathy has been up for debate – the proposal that Cure is not deserving of sympathy is something that I have found personally difficult to grapple with.
Bodycam and dashcam footage (disclosing the specific traffic stop) released by the Camden County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has since divided spectators. Some declare the incident (specifically the rather cruel and permanent punishment that Cure was subjected to) to be an appalling example of injustice. Comparatively, others believe that the shot that took Cure’s life was justified and warranted. Moreover, the incident in question has been challenged to further debate, with some suggesting that race clearly played a significant role, thereby adding weight to the evidence of racial disparities in traffic stops (it is important to note that Cure was Black and Aldridge is white). In contrast, proponents of an alternative perspective assert that the issue should be viewed solely in terms of the escalated behavior exhibited by one individual toward another, with race being irrelevant. To that point, I (and many others, including Cure’s family) posit, what would have happened if Cure were a white man?
Why has Cure’s death sparked such division? In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the controversy, it is imperative to carefully examine the case at hand and unravel its complexities. Cure’s situation is not as straightforward to interpret with regard to determining whose behavior was justified and whose was not – if such an argument is even applicable in the first place. Several factors have contributed to the complexities of the situation. These include the conflicting content of the released footage, Cure’s noncompliant behavior, and the speeding laws in Georgia that grant officers greater discretion in penalizing those they consider to be offenders.
According to the footage, Cure is seen passing Aldridge’s car, but not in any erratic way. Reportedly, Cure was returning from visiting his mother in Florida when he was pulled over by Aldridge of the Camden County Police for speeding and reckless driving. Upon pulling Cure over, Aldridge immediately instructs Cure to “step out” and then screams, “get out” (First Coast News, 01:58-02:05). Cure exits his truck while Aldridge orders him to step to the back and place both of his hands on the truck. Cure fails to do so on command and is then grabbed by Aldridge – this causes Cure to immediately pull away. Shortly after, Cure complies once Aldridge threatens to tase him, with his stun gun pointed directly at Cure. With his hands on the truck, Aldridge directs Cure to then turn around (facing away from Aldridge) and put his hands behind his back, or he will be tased again – this is when things escalate, if they have not already. At this point, Aldridge tries to restrain Cure’s hands behind his back while repeatedly telling Cure to put his hands behind his back. Aldridge repeatedly warns Cure that he will get tased if he refuses to comply. Cure questions Aldridge’s identity and asks whether he has a warrant for his arrest. As soon as Aldridge touches Cure for the second time, Cure immediately asks, “why am I getting tased?” (First Coast News, 03:07-03:08). Aldridge responds by saying, “because you are under arrest for speeding and reckless driving” (First Coast News, 03:09-03:11). Cure replies, “I’m not driving, nobody was hurt, how was I speeding?” (First Coast News, 03:12-03:13). Aldridge explains that Cure “passed [him] doing 100 miles per hour” (First Coast News, 03:15-03:16). Cure then says, “okay so that’s a speeding ticket, right?” (First Coast News, 03:17-03:18). Aldridge proceeds, “sir, tickets in the state of Georgia are a criminal offense” (First Coast News, 03:19-03:20). Cure emphasizes “I don’t have a ticket in Georgia”, to which Aldridge replies, “you do now” (First Coast News, 03:22-03:24). Cure is heard saying something along the lines of “okay, no criminal offense” (however, it is difficult to hear him clearly). He then states, “I’m not going to jail”, as Aldridge replies, “yes, you are” (First Coast News, 03:27-03:30). From there, Aldridge tases Cure in the back as it seems that Cure has still failed to put his hands behind his back. Despite this, Cure breaks free of the stun, approaches Aldridge, and then assaults him – Aldridge attempts to use his baton to ward off Cure. The two fight each other until Aldridge fires into Cure’s left side. Cure then collapses and is later pronounced dead at the scene.
The entire video is chaotic and graphic. While Cure’s behavior cannot be condoned, he certainly did not deserve to lose his life over a traffic stop. Aldridge should not have been attacked, but many strongly believe (myself included) that he could have utilized de-escalation tactics from the onset to avoid further aggravation of the situation.
At a recent news conference (held outside of the Camden County Courthouse), Cure’s brothers, Wallace and Michael, acknowledged that their brother had become physical during the altercation with Aldridge. However, they felt that Cure was mostly compliant despite Aldridge making “no attempt to reduce the intensity of the interaction” (Petri, 2023). Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump, representing the Cure family, also commented that the officer acted aggressively upon exiting the vehicle and “never attempted to de-escalate the situation” (Petri, 2023). Cure’s brothers, as well as Crump, held a reasonable suspicion that Cure may have been battling some mental health issues. This could have possibly been attributed to the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that he likely experienced during his incarceration. Thus, it could be inferred that Aldridge may have triggered Cure when he asserted that he would be apprehended and sent back to jail. Aldridge could not have immediately known about Cure’s mental state, as most officers do not initially know who they are pulling over during a traffic stop.
The issue surrounding force has been the subject of extensive research. According to the National Institute of Justice, law enforcement officers are trained to respond swiftly and appropriately to potentially threatening situations and apply force as necessary (National Institute of Justice). Though it is emphasized that situational awareness is critical, the institute explains that officers are trained to assess when the use of force is required to regain control of a situation. Still, it is worth noting that the extent to which this approach is effective remains a matter of debate. In the case of Aldridge, if he exhibited aggressive behavior from the outset, it can be assumed that he may not have been attuned to the situation to see that Cure did not initially meet his aggression with equal force. Also, if Cure was mostly compliant, it raises questions about the level of force that Aldridge had used to gain control of a situation that he (Aldridge) originally had under control. His decision to “add fuel to the fire” from the very moment he exited his vehicle is what makes the whole situation alarming. De-escalation tactics may not have solved everything but had Aldridge deployed them, Cure would still be alive.
The Vera Institute of Justice reports that police officers conduct more than 20 million traffic stops every year for traffic violations (McCann, 2023). The sheer magnitude of this figure is striking: 20 million stops annually is almost equivalent to one stop per second for 50,000 drivers daily. Traffic stops are clearly a routine occurrence, as evidenced by the aforementioned statistics. Yet Vera’s researchers and writers, such as Sam McCann, note how “many of these stops [often] involve low-level allegations and have little to no benefit to safety” (McCann, 2023). On top of this, per each occurrence, a higher probability is likely for the arrestment, conviction, incarceration, and, in the most dreadful of cases, death of Black drivers. This has been observed in the fatal experiences of Jerame Reid, Samuel DuBose, Philando Castile, Daunte Wright, Tyre Nichols, and now Leonard Cure – who are just several of thousands of Black people who have endured major injustice.
Do not get me wrong, traffic stops pose a risk to all parties involved, regardless of race. However, the experience will vary depending on who is conducting the stop and who is being subjected to the stop. Many drivers are allowed to proceed without escalation or incident, but this is clearly not always the case when the driver is Black. To emphasize the disproportionate impact and violence that Black drivers experience during traffic stops (and, by extension, through police intervention), in-depth research has been conducted and published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the American Civil Liberties Union, the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health, the Stanford Open Policing Project, Mapping Police Violence, and the Washington Post.
Amna Nawaz, the Co-Anchor of PBS News Hour, leads a discussion with Tracy Meares, a Yale Law Professor, about implicit bias and racism in modern policing. Nawaz refers to a study conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that analyzed body camera footage from 577 traffic stops involving Black drivers. The study found that the first 45 words spoken by a police officer during an interaction could determine the outcome of the encounter. Researchers concluded that if an officer began by issuing a vague statement or did not provide a reason for the stop, it was three times more likely that the interaction would escalate, resulting in the driver being searched, handcuffed, or arrested.
During their conversation, Meares highlights how in cases where an officer stops a driver for a minor, low-level infraction but fails to explain the reason for the stop, the likelihood of escalation increases by 2.5 times. Meares notably shares the study found that 98 percent of the drivers who experienced an escalated outcome were Black (researchers did observe 267 incidents involving white drivers who were stopped, but only four of those incidents resulted in an escalation). Nawaz and Meares’ discussion on the report sheds light on how the language and approach engaged in by police officers can have a drastic impact on the outcome of an encounter, especially for Black drivers – as seen in the video between Cure and Aldridge.
There are so many ways that fatal outcome could have been avoided. In this particular situation, there was clearly a significant difference in legal power, protection, equipment used, and defense training between Aldridge and an unarmed Cure. One does not even have to watch the whole video (let alone parts of it) to know who is going to make it out alive.
Equally important, the traffic and speeding laws in Georgia are known for their punitive nature, complexity, and the discretion they provide to law enforcement officers. Attorneys at Kaufman Law provide valuable insight into the varying costs associated with speeding tickets. Factors such as the location of the violation, the degree to which the driver exceeded the speed limit, and the driver’s record at the time of the infraction may all influence the final cost of the ticket (Kaufman Law, 2023). In light of these factors, Cure’s case presents additional complications that must be addressed. The nuanced nature of Georgia’s speeding laws requires a careful analysis.
The following information outlines crucial facts regarding Cure’s position in relation to Georgia’s speeding laws and general penalties. This provides an understanding of the gravity that speeding and traffic penalties impose but ultimately highlights the possibility that Cure could have evaded the life-altering outcome that he experienced. (For a more extensive explanation of speeding, speeding offenses, fines, ticket disputes, reckless driving, and what happens if a driver is arrested, please refer to my attached document Information on Georgia’s Speeding Laws).
- Camden County Sheriff’s Office reports that “Cure was stopped after being clocked on radar driving 90 mph in a 70 mph zone and then accelerating more than 100 mph” (Hernandez & Romo, 2023)
- Aldridge charged Cure with speeding and reckless driving.
- Georgia considers all traffic violations (regardless of severity) as misdemeanors. (infractions do not exist, at least when it comes to traffic offenses. Misdemeanors are considered more serious than an infraction but less serious than a felony).
- Because all traffic violations are treated as criminal offenses or misdemeanor crimes (these two terms appear to be interchangeable), the punishment can result in up to 12 months in jail and, at most, a $1000 fine.
If a Driver is Accused of Speeding
- The driver could be issued a speeding ticket (or a citation) and will likely have to pay a steep fine or make an appearance in court.
- The attending officer could arrest the driver on-site, leading to a faster entry into the criminal justice system. (again, it largely depends on the situation and especially on the officer’s discretion)
Maximum Driving Speed on A Rural Interstate Highway
- 70 mph (this accounts for any interstate highway that is outside an urbanized area of 50000 or more population).
Exceeding the Speed Limit
- If the driver exceeds the speed limit by at least 19 mph but less than 24 mph = $150
- If the driver exceeds the speed limit by at least 24 mph but less than 34 mph = $500
- As of 2010, Georgia has been classified as a super speeder state. This means that if a driver is caught speeding at 75 mph or more on a two-lane road or at 85 mph or above on any road or highway, they must pay an additional fine of $200.
Accumulated Driving Points
- 24-33 mph over the speed limit = 4 points
- Reckless driving = 4 points
- All other moving violations = 3 points
- A driver with 15 points in a 24-month period will have their license suspended or revoked.
- According to Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyers, the “reckless driving” standard is relatively ambiguous, which means that any driver can be accused of reckless driving based on the “loose opinions” of the police officer who pulls them over (Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyers, 2023).
- The definition of “reckless regard” under Georgia statutes is not specific, which leaves the determination (in terms of speed and conditions) up to the arresting officer and the judge at trial.
A majority of lawyers in Georgia have noted that individuals accused of such speeding or reckless driving offenses generally do not face severe penalties. Instead, they are more likely to be fined, sentenced to probation, or have their license suspended. For example, criminal, DUI and traffic defense lawyer Sean A. Black acknowledges that speeding in Georgia is considered a misdemeanor. He points out that the offense generally carries a punishment ranging from 12 months of incarceration and a $1,000 fine. Still, he clarifies that “most court dispositions of speeding offenses involve no jail time and a fine lower than the maximum amount mentioned” (Black, 2017). Kaufman Law Attorneys further underscore that determining the cost and repercussions of a speeding violation can be complicated, but violations rarely result in jail time.
Now, back to Cure’s situation. Hernandez and Romo report that Lary Bruce, the Public Information Officer for the Camden County Sheriff’s Office, had shared that “Cure was stopped after being clocked on radar driving 90 mph in a 70 mph zone and then accelerat[ed] more than 100 mph” (Hernandez & Romo, 2023). Considering the presented information on Georgia’s speeding laws, Aldridge was correct that Cure would have been charged with speeding. However, it appears that the charge of reckless driving is not entirely clear. As emphasized, it is initially based on the officer’s discretion. Thus, even if Aldridge claimed Cure to be driving recklessly, who knows if his claims would have held up in court because during the time of the incident, no radar was initially reported, and according to Michael Cure, “[the Camden County Sheriff’s Office] [was] unable to tell [them] how [Aldridge] gauged the speed” or why he chose to pull Cure over in the first place (Scanlan, 2023).
If Cure had been issued a speeding ticket, as initially acknowledged by Aldridge in the video, he would have most likely incurred a minimum fine of $150 along with an additional super speeder tax of $200. Such an offense would have accumulated an estimated 8 to 10 (possibly more) points on his driving record, obligating him to attend a court hearing. The hearing may have resulted in probation, suspension of his license, or an exemption from attending the hearing if he paid the fine. Upon payment of the fine, the court would forward notice of the conviction to the Georgia Department of Driver Services, where any points associated with the citation would be placed on his driving record, and the case would be closed (Georgia Government, 2023). Of course, the outcome of the case would have mainly depended on the evidence presented and the presiding judge’s discretion.
Although contemplating the counterfactual scenarios of “what could have been” between Cure and Aldridge may not necessarily yield a productive outcome (as what is done, is done), I feel compelled to highlight, through my detailed assessment, the alternative scenarios that could have potentially unfolded for Cure as most of them would have allowed him to live to see another day.
In the hypothetical event that this case were to be brought to court, it is reasonable to presume that Aldridge’s prior aggressive behavior and non-compliance with policies regarding the use of necessary and appropriate force (which he exhibited during his tenure at the former Kingsland Police Department, where he was previously employed and later fired), could have been used against him (Scanlan, 2023). Furthermore, it is worth noting that a defense lawyer might have been able to build part of Cure’s defense around the fact that the Camden County Sheriff’s Office had been subject to increased scrutiny due to an excessive number of grievances filed against the department over the past two years. Such evidence could have potentially been used to emphasize Aldridge’s mistreatment of Cure, based on the misconduct by the department’s deputies, which includes “allegedly discriminatory and violent traffic stops… [in addition to] brutal use of force on detainees” (Shore, 2023).
Unfortunately, the hypothetical case at hand does not appear as though it would have been resolved as easily due to Cure’s noncompliant behavior, which would have complicated matters. Although it is unclear whether Aldridge would have had a strong case against Cure, given his history and the tainted reputation of the Camden County Sheriff’s Office, it could have been Cure’s attack that would have potentially led to imprisonment – even if he were to have been “relieved” of the speeding and reckless driving charges.
Under Georgia law, O.C.G.A §16-10-24 classifies obstruction of a law enforcement officer as a criminal offense. If the defendant “resist[s] arrest, with or without the use of force” or intentionally hits an officer, this can be considered obstruction (Lawson & Berry, 2023). If the defendant is found guilty of “knowingly or willfully obstruct[ing] or hinder[ing] a law enforcement officer in the lawful discharge of [their] official duties”, there is the possibility that they could be convicted with a misdemeanor obstruction or a felony obstruction (Lawson & Berry, 2023).
The distinction between a misdemeanor obstruction and a felony obstruction in Georgia seems to be determined by the imposed aspect of violence. As formerly stated, a misdemeanor conviction would carry a maximum fine of up to $1000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 12 months, in addition to other penalties authorized by Georgia’s misdemeanor sentencing laws. Under a felony obstruction, the punishment would be imprisonment for a period ranging from one to five years (or more, depending on whether further convictions would be present). The offender (defendant in court) would also be required to pay a fine of at least $300. Similar to the misdemeanor, other penalties could also be imposed by felony sentencing laws.
An evaluation of the potential consequences that these obstruction codes could have had on Cure’s name remains inconclusive. It is uncertain whether Cure would have faced severe penalties for his initial reckless driving and speeding charges, as Aldridge’s discretion (in determining the charges) had been considerably extended by Georgia law, and all of the facts of Cure’s violation were not initially provided. However, Cure’s resistance and physical attack on Aldridge may have resulted in an obstruction charge or an assault or battery charge. Therefore, the possibility of legal repercussions still may have been likely, despite Cure’s claims of never having received a speeding ticket in Georgia.
It is essential to note that the situation I have presented is purely hypothetical, as I am very much not an expert on criminal justice procedures or Georgia law. Furthermore, I live in a state that is much more lenient with traffic violations (i.e., non-criminal infractions), so I may have no ground to stand on in my claims. Ultimately, it is unknown what could have transpired during a legal proceeding between Cure and Aldridge. Although it is possible that the circumstances could have worked in Cure’s favor (at least with regard to the driving charge), it is also possible that Aldridge (or the prosecutor representing him and the State) would have had more leverage. Then again, due to Cure’s prior convictions and his positionality as a Black man residing in the South, his prospects for a just and fair trial would have certainly been in question. Overall, Georgia’s legal system appears highly intricate, and navigating the criminal justice system in general can be a challenging undertaking, so who knows what could have truly happened.
The fact that Cure could still be alive today but is not, underlies the pressing need for reform. It is clear that there is still much work to be done to establish responsible, effective, and more restorative approaches to policing. On the contrary, one may argue that law enforcement officials are not adequately trained to handle such situations and have to exercise a particular amount of force if necessary (I understand this might appear to contradict my earlier point about de-escalation). This is why there has been a growing demand for alternative response teams to alleviate the burden put on police. The implementation of alternative teams for minor situations could enable the police to concentrate on high-profile threat situations that actually demand their attention. Such a strategy could allow these teams to handle the more minor situations (that most officers currently have to attend to) efficiently and without escalation. As a result, this could ensure the safe and peaceful resolution of incidents without endangering the lives of either the suspect or law enforcement official – which has been a major concern voiced by supporters of both groups.
While my analysis does not present any new ideas that have not already been proposed by passionate and dedicated activists, advocates, community organizers, students, and scholars before me, it is vital that the conversation persists. Through ongoing dialogue and persistence, positive change can be envisioned and actively pursued. Finally, it is crucial to ensure that the thousands of Black individuals who have suffered injustice are never forgotten. Their names, faces, stories, and legacies must be known, acknowledged, and honored, as their justice is demanded urgently.
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Rho, E. H., Harrington, M., Zhong, Y., Pryzant, R., Camp, N. P., Jurafsky, D., & Eberhardt, J. L. (2023, May 30). Escalated police stops of Black men are linguistically and psychologically distinct in their earliest moments. PNAS. https://www.pnas.org/doi/abs/10.1073/pnas.2216162120?af=R
Scanlan, D. (2023, October 19). Questions arise after Camden County deputy kills driver. Jacksonville Today. https://jaxtoday.org/2023/10/19/video-reveals-details-of-suspects-shooting-in-camden-county/#skip-mr-widget
Shore, J. (2023, June 14). Frequent misbehavior by Camden deputies leads to dropped insurance coverage. The Current. https://thecurrentga.org/2023/06/14/frequent-misbehavior-by-camden-deputies-leads-to-dropped-insurance-coverage/
Smith, W. S. (2021, May 4). Speeding Laws in Georgia. Peach State Lawyers. https://www.peachstatelawyer.com/speeding-laws-in-georgia/
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Spivey, W. (2023, October 18). The Life and Death of Leonard Allen Cure. Medium. https://medium.com/afrosapiophile/the-life-and-death-of-leonard-allen-cure-69c22df2d7e1#:~:text=Little%20is%20known%20about%20the,or%20use%20of%20a%20weapon
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The Associated Press. (2023, October 17). Georgia deputy shoots, kills black man who spent 16 years in prison on wrongful conviction. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/deputy-sheriff-shooting-traffic-stop-georgia-9ca56342974dd22b34ae330af62c555c
The Cowan Law Firm, LLC. (2023, July 18). What are Georgia’s Speed Limit Laws? https://cowanlawoffice.com/what-are-georgias-speed-limit-laws/
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Walsh, R. (n.d.). Georgia Obstruction of a Law Enforcement Officer Attorney. Ryan Walsh Legal. https://www.ryanwalshlegal.com/obstruction-of-a-law-enforcement-officer
Yates & Wheland. (2022, April 5). Bond Hearings in Atlanta Criminal Cases. Atlanta Criminal Lawyer. https://lawyeratl.com/bond-hearings/