Alabama’s Supreme Court has temporarily halted the murder trial of a white police officer accused of killing a black man as it considers a defense request to remove the judge.
Eight justices concurred with the decision, while one recused himself, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.
The request was prompted by a Facebook post written by the judge two months after the killing – and before the judge was assigned to the trial -- in which the judge, who is black, complained about being racially profiled by police.
The defense appealed after Montgomery County Circuit Judge Greg Griffin declined to recuse himself from the case.
The defendant in the murder trial is Montgomery Police Officer Aaron Smith, who is accused of fatally shooting Greg Gunn, 58, on Feb. 25, 2016.
Prosecutors say the white officer stopped Gunn, who was black, as Gunn was walking late at night and carrying a crowbar.
Smith did not activate his patrol car’s lights or his body camera while stopping Gunn, who fled from the officer during a stop-and-frisk situation, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.
The defense has contended that Smith stopped Gunn because he seemed to be acting suspiciously. They allege that Gunn fought with the officer and swung an object at him.
The newspaper reported that Smith used a Taser on Gunn three times, beat him several times with a metal baton and shot Gunn five times outside his neighbor’s house. The newspaper cited testimony from a preliminary hearing from State Bureau of Investigation agent Jason DiNunzio, who had interviewed Smith.
Two months after Gunn’s death, Judge Griffin – without mentioning Gunn’s death – wrote on Facebook that he had been stopped during his morning walk by officers who claimed he matched the description of someone who had been reported in the area with a crowbar. Griffin wrote that he showed them his judicial badge.
“It was aggravating to be detained when the only thing I was guilty of was being a black man walking down the street in his neighborhood with a stick in his hand,” the judge wrote.
"It was aggravating to be detained when the only thing I was guilty of was being a black man walking down the street in his neighborhood with a stick in his hand.”
Defense attorney Roianne Conner argued in a May hearing that she wasn’t claiming that Griffin was biased, only that judicial ethics rules require judges to avoid even “appearances of impropriety.”
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals declined to force Griffin’s recusal.
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.