On Monday, October 16, 2023, a 53-year-old African-American man and Georgian resident, Leonard Allen Cure, was pulled to the side of Interstate 95 by a Sgt. Buck Aldridge for “speeding and reckless driving” (Allie Griffin 2023). Leonard Cure began to wrestle the officer after being told he would be “going to jail” (Allie Griffin 2023). Amidst the struggle, Cure pushed the officer’s head back while cursing and the officer retrieved his baton and began to beat Cure. When the baton had no effect on Cure, Aldridge resorted to pulling out his gun and shooting Cure in close proximity. Cure released his grasp from Aldridge’s face and slumped to the ground.
After parking his pickup truck along the side of the freeway, Aldridge demanded Cure remove himself from his vehicle. Cure claimed to have done nothing wrong as he swerved his arm out of reach of the officer. The officer aimed a taser at Cure whilst ordering him to position himself near the rear of the vehicle. Cure began inquiring about the deputy’s identity and agency of employment to no avail. Cure obeyed the officer and walked to the back end of the truck with his hands in the air, and turned to face the vehicle. Aldridge calls for backup and tells Cure to place his hands behind his back. Cure responds by questioning whether there was a warrant out for his arrest. The officer threatens to tase him if he doesn’t follow his instructions. Cure asks why he would get tased in the first place. The officer responds by accusing Cure of speeding and reckless driving. Cure claims to not be driving, that nobody was hurt, and asks the officer how he was speeding. Aldridge states that Cure passed him driving at 100 miles per hour. Cure asks him whether that is a speeding ticket. The officer corrects Cure by informing him that speeding tickets qualify as criminal offenses in the state of Georgia. Cure expresses his refusal to go to jail or cooperate with Aldridge.
Aldridge reminds him to put his hands behind his back while Cure points a finger to the sky. Aldridge assures Cure he will be heading to jail and goes on to tase him in the back. Again, the officer shouts at Cure, “hands behind your back.” As Aldridge repeats this order once again, Cure begins flailing his arms in an attempt to free himself from the taser strings, while also moving toward the officer. Cure latches onto the officer’s arms and the two begin to tussle. As they struggle, Cure grabs Aldridge’s glasses. He then grabs his face first with his right hand, then with his left. Cure then pushed the officer against the rear of the truck, holding onto his chin and continuously forcing the officer’s head back. With his free hand, the officer retrieves his baton and starts beating Cure, but when that doesn’t stop him, he gets his gun and shoots him in close proximity. Cure falls to the ground and he releases Aldridge’s face. The deputy shouted at Cure to “stay down” three times while walking around his body and proceeded to call for backup by saying “shots fired.” Upon arriving, the backup officers and Aldridge supplied aid until paramedics were on scene at which point they assisted by helping move Cure’s body into the ambulance. Aldridge was later shown to have gotten emotional and cried.
Cure’s Incarceration and Exoneration
The Innocence Project of Florida represented Leonard Cure in his exoneration, with Seth Miller being the program’s executive director. Cure’s family informed Seth of his untimely death to which he said to have been devastated and that he could “only imagine what it’s like to know your son is innocent and watch him be sentenced to life in prison, to be exonerated and … then be told that once he’s been freed, he’s been shot dead.” The Georgia Bureau of Investigation identified the victim of the shooting as Leonard Allen Cure. The organization did not give reason as to why Aldridge pulled over Cure’s vehicle. Although, the GBI recounted Cure’s behavior as initially cooperative but later turned violent. It is common for the GBI to handle cases in which there are shootings involving officers.
Although having no comment relating to Cure specifically, Seth stated to have had experience with people convicted of crimes and later exonerated of them. He described these people as having a lasting paranoia that the same events would at some point reoccur, “Even when they’re free, they always struggled with the concern, the fear that they’ll be convicted and incarcerated again for something they didn’t do” (The Associated Press 2023).
In 2003, Leonard Cure was accused of armed robbery with a handgun at a Walgreens in Florida’s Dania Beach. The victims, an employee and a manager, were unsure about whether Cure truly was the perpetrator. Another eyewitness, a Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy testified to have seen Cure in the area, walking a child to school the same day the crime occurred. In 2004, the first jury deadlocked, meaning the jury could not reach a consensus which led to a retrial. The second jury found Cure guilty and sentenced him to life in prison primarily because he was a habitual offender. As reported by SunSentinel, Cure had been previously convicted of robbery, cocaine possession, and grand theft auto. After the Broward State Attorney’s Office’s new Conviction Review Unit reviewed Cure’s case in 2020, it asked a judge, Broward County Judge Circuit Judge John J. Murphy III, to release Cure from prison, to which he agreed. The case was flawed from the get-go, from the manner in which Cure was identified by the GBI to the reliability of the eyewitnesses. Leader of the review team, Assistant State Attorney Arielle Demby Berger, questioned how Cure even qualified as a suspect in the first place, “Seemingly a man who had no connection to a Walgreens robbery became the main suspect after someone reviewed photos of well-dressed/neat appearing African-American males,” (The Associated Press 2020) Berger wrote. Moreover, Cure’s alibi was supported by his ATM receipt, proving he was at an ATM at 6:52 AM EST, located 3.2 miles from the crime scene. However, according to Assistant Public Defender and Cure’s original representative, Gordon Weekes, the jury did not buy this explanation. In addition to the ATM receipt, Cure is said to have “arrived at work before 8 AM EST” (The Associated Press 2020), and the crime transpired between 7:15 and 7:24 AM EST. The conviction review team discovered that Cure obtained solid alibis that were previously disregarded and that there was no physical evidence or solid witnesses to put him at the scene, these results were also supported by an independent review panel.
After Cure’s sentence was modified, he was released on a Tuesday afternoon in April of 2020. A judge vacated Cure’s conviction and sentences in December 2020, meaning the conviction was wiped from his record or legally annulled. Cure was relieved to have overcome this obstacle and happy to be living prison-free, “I’m looking forward to putting this situation behind me and moving on with my life,” (The Associated Press 2023) he relayed to the South Florida SunSentinel. In June, Cure was granted compensation of $817,000 coupled with educational benefits to reimburse him for his conviction and imprisonment by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
After Cure’s miscarriage of justice and subsequent exoneration, he went on to give back to the community by assisting in the prevention of future wrongful convictions, like his own. Cure did this by volunteering to help state attorney staff perform their jobs efficiently and fairly. Moreover, Cure would regularly call to check in on the head of the Conviction Unit, Assistant State Attorney Arielle Demby Berger, and provide his support to continue carrying out “the important work of justice,” (The Associated Press 2023) Broward State Attorney Harold F. Pryor said.
Sergeant Buck Aldridge’s Police Record
In December 2012, Aldridge was hired by the City of Kingsland Police Department as a police cadet. During his time at Kingsland, Aldridge completed a total of 618 training hours some of which were centered around de-escalation techniques, use of deadly force, and traffic stops. His career at Kingsland lasted less than five years, as he was fired for violating two agency policies, including the Use of Necessary and Appropriate Force and On/Off Duty Conduct policies. However, specific details regarding these two instances remain unclear.
Aldridge’s first incident involved unnecessary force with Ms. Wilson at a traffic stop. Although Ms. Wilson, the woman who was pulled over, was resistant, she ultimately obeyed Aldridge’s commands. According to First Coast News, “the lieutenant who wrote the internal investigation report says ‘Ms. Wilson was being verbally passive resistant but however, did comply with Officer Aldridge’s verbal command to exit the vehicle’” (Cheyenne Cole 2023). The lieutenant concluded that the extra use of force was unnecessary because the situation solely called for the officer’s presence and verbal persuasion, saying “the minimal level of force required at the time of this incident was officer presence and verbal persuasion” (Cheyenne Cole 2023).
Aldridge’s supervisor advised him to “be clear, give location, and don’t tunnel vision” (Cheyenne Cole 2023) in his first employee evaluation. A 2013 performance review of Aldridge suggested he improve his judgment and decision-making skills. In addition, the record included a comment recommending he try and remain “’calm, cool, collected” (Bethan Sexton 2023). Later, in February 2014, the deputy faced his first disciplinary action in the form of a write-up for violating department policy. His police record states he was using “unnecessary force on an individual during the course of a traffic stop to take the person into custody based on the belief that probable cause existed for a crime that was occurring” (Cheyenne Cole 2023). This called for intervention, a supervisor ordered Aldridge to not only attend mandatory training on communication skill building and get re-training but also receive counseling on properly conducting a traffic stop and probable cause for resisting arrest.
In June of 2016, Aldridge and another officer pursued a motorcycle on I-95. Due to the officer’s close proximity and mechanical problems, the motorist had no choice but to pull over in the emergency lane. Apparently, the two vehicles were so close together that they allegedly made contact with each other. Aldredge’s superiors punished him by giving him a warning and reminder to “maintain a reasonable distance behind the suspect vehicle” (Cheyenne Cole 2023).
Aldridge was accused of “alleged misconduct” and faced administrative leave in April of 2017, the misconduct consisted of him picking up and throwing a woman to the ground during a traffic stop. An officer commented on Aldridge’s reaction, calling it “a bit much” (Bethan Sexton 2023), while another said, “I see a police officer being way too aggressive to start with. He had no business picking her up and throwing her to the ground” (Bethan Sexton 2023). The city manager suspended Aldridge from pay for three days of pay and advocated for a probationary period of 12 months. The department terminated Aldridge four months later, and he is currently on administrative leave from the Camden County Sheriff’s Office.
What Contributed to Cure’s Lash-Out?
Due to his time in prison, Cure developed emotional stress otherwise known as post-traumatic stress disorder, according to his family. An attorney for the Cure family, Benjamin Crump, and brother to Leonard, Michael Cure, suspect the deputy’s mentioning of Cure going to jail is what set him off. Michael Cure concluded that the deputy’s remark triggered him in the heat of the moment, “I believe there were possibly some issues going on, some mental issues with my brother. I know him quite well. The officer just triggered him, undoubtedly triggered him. It was excitement met with excitement” (Allie Griffin 2023). Crump criticized Aldridge’s aggressive behavior and lack of attempts at de-escalating the situation. He went on to say, “We don’t understand why there weren’t more attempts to de-escalate the situation” (Bethan Sexton 2023). Crump put Cure’s circumstances into perspective, saying “When you’ve been wrongfully convicted, and then they’re talking about taking you back to the cage? It’s psychological at that point” (Allie Griffin 2023).
Critiques From a Former Officer
Retired Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office officer, James Brown, was asked to analyze the dash and body cam footage of the traffic stop interaction between Sergeant Aldridge and Cure. Brown believes the deputy’s approach was wrong from the beginning, that rather than just stopping him, it would be best to explain what he did, “I think the approach is all wrong, just based on the fact that you’re stopping based on your observation so until you find out more, why not explain to this citizen what he’s done” (Ariel Schiller 2023). In addition, Brown also said to not have noticed anything that would require Aldridge to have instantly exited his vehicle to confront Cure, “There was nothing that I could see that would mandate you immediately get out of this car and confront the driver” (Ariel Schiller 2023). Brown also suggested taking time to call for backup first due to the state of the situation, “It would not have hurt him to take two or three minutes in the car, calling for additional backup because of the circumstance” (Ariel Schiller 2023).
With the numerous instances of police brutality against the black community in recent times, this is obviously a very sensitive matter. I think both parties involved played a role in contributing to this terrible outcome to some extent. Sergeant Aldridge should have initially called for backup before addressing Cure, disclosed to Cure what exactly he did to get pulled over, not come off in such a hostile manner, and implemented tactics to de-escalate the situation. On the other hand, Cure should have obeyed the officer, not displayed any vocal or physical resistance, and remained civil. Of course, an individual expressing resistance to law enforcement should never result in death; a simple traffic stop should never have to end in the loss of life. Furthermore, it is critical that police departments know exactly who they are hiring and are wary of their employees’ records and histories. Personally, I feel as though Cure would not have been so easily agitated had he seen a specialist about his PTSD. Ultimately, Leonard Cure should have never been killed and it is tragic that he is now an example of the consequences of police brutality and incompetence.