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Leonard Allan Cure, freed after a wrongful conviction, is shot dead in a traffic stop

Leonard Allan Cure spent 16 years in prison after a wrongful conviction by a Florida jury.
Innocence Project of Florida
Leonard Allan Cure spent 16 years in prison after a wrongful conviction by a Florida jury.

Updated October 18, 2023 at 5:42 PM ET

Leonard Allan Cure spent more than 16 years imprisoned in Florida on a wrongful conviction, fighting relentlessly for his release before he was finally freed three years ago. On Monday, he was killed by a Georgia sheriff during a traffic stop on his way home from visiting his mother.

Cure, who was Black, was pulled over in Camden County near the Florida border by a sheriff's deputy at about 7:30 a.m., according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The agency is conducting an independent probe into the fatal shooting by the officer.

"It is god awful that he would escape that injustice to have his life claimed by more bias," civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Cure's family, said at a Wednesday news conference.

"Just because you're Black should not be the determining factor whether you get a death sentence for a traffic stop," he added.

Authorities release video footage of the incident

Later on Wednesday, the Camden County Sheriff's Office released graphic dashboard and body camera footage of the shooting.

The video shows Staff Sgt. Buck Aldridge driving in his patrol vehicle when a pickup truck passes him at a higher rate of speed. He pulls the truck over.

Aldridge exits his car and immediately yells for Cure to "step out!" and put his hands on the back of the truck. Cure exits but at first refuses to move to the back of the truck. Aldridge grabs Cure's arm, but he pulls it away.

Aldridge again tells Cure to put his hands on the back of the truck or he'll stun him with his Taser, and Cure complies.

Cure asks for Aldridge's name and whether there's a warrant out for his arrest. Aldridge tells Cure he's being arrested for speeding and reckless driving.

"OK, so that's a speeding ticket, right?" Cure says.

"Sir, tickets in the state of Georgia are criminal offenses," Aldridge replies.

Cure asks if he's going to jail, to which Aldridge says he is. As Cure says "no" and then lifts his left arm in the air, Aldridge deploys his Taser, hitting Cure in the back.

Moments later, Cure spins around and begins swinging his arms. Aldridge continues to stun Cure before the two begin grappling. Cure grips his hand on Aldridge's face, and Aldridge takes out his baton and hits Cure with it.

Cure says, "yeah, b****," before Aldridge unholsters his gun and shoots Cure in the left side, causing him to fall to the ground.

As Aldridge calls in "shots fired" on his radio and tells Cure to remain on the ground, Cure says, "too late." Aldridge, breathing heavily, leans on his vehicle's hood for support and waits for backup to arrive.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the shooting

In an earlier statement that did not name Aldridge, the GBI said that Cure got out of his car at the officer's request and that he initially "complied with the officer's commands until learning he was under arrest."

According to preliminary findings by the agency, an altercation ensued during which Cure was stunned with a Taser. Authorities said Cure assaulted the deputy, who stunned him again. The arresting deputy also used a baton to try to subdue the 53-year-old before firing his weapon, the GBI said.

The GBI reported that the deputy was not injured in the incident. The officer has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, according to Larry Bruce, the public information officer for the Camden County Sheriff's Office.

In an email to NPR, Bruce said that Cure was stopped after being clocked on radar driving at 90 mph in a 70 mph zone and then accelerating to more than 100 mph.

Cure was being charged with speeding and reckless driving, Bruce said.

The family of Cure and their attorneys said it was the latest example of a problematic culture at the Camden County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office has been the subject of so many complaints over the last two years, particularly at the county jail, that it was dropped by its insurance company, reported The Current, a Georgia-based investigative news site.

In one high-profile example, a former deputy was fired and is facing criminal charges stemming from a traffic stop in which she slapped a handcuffed driver in the face and slammed the motorist's head into her patrol vehicle.

Cure had started a new life after leaving prison

In 2004, Cure was convicted of armed robbery with a firearm and assault with a firearm, and sentenced to life in prison.

According to the Innocence Project of Florida, which worked on Cure's case, a jury found him guilty of robbing a Walgreens in Dania Beach, Fla., one year earlier, even though he had an alibi and there was no physical or forensic evidence tying him to the crime.

Cure appealed his conviction several times over the years, and in 2020 he was released from prison after the Broward State Attorney's Conviction Review Unit raised questions about how he was identified as a suspect and included in a lineup in the initial investigation. Authorities later dropped all charges against Cure, making him the first person exonerated by the unit.

"He was charismatic, extremely intelligent and he was a man of integrity, if nothing else," Michael Cure said of his younger brother. "My brother mattered to us. He had dreams, aspirations and goals."

He added that his family now joins the other families of Black men who have been killed by police.

"It's so unfortunate that I along with my family have to stand here before you today in this unfortunate club that these officers create for us," he said. "We're now one of those families."

The Innocence Project of Florida said in a statement that it was "devastated" by Cure's death. "We will do all we can to support Lenny's family and all who knew him and loved him."

Broward State Attorney Harold F. Pryor and his team also expressed their condolences.

"The Leonard we knew was a smart, funny and kind person," they said in a statement. "After he was freed and exonerated by our office, he visited prosecutors at our office and participated in training to help our staff do their jobs in the fairest and most thorough way possible."

Earlier this year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law awarding Cure $817,000 in compensation and offering an official apology on behalf of the state.

After his release, Cure reconnected with his family outside of Atlanta, the Innocence Project of Florida said.

Working a steady job, Cure was aspiring to go to college for music production and was in the process of purchasing his first home near Atlanta.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.