EXCLUSIVE: Lithonia police chief accused of creating ‘hostile work environment’

Lithonia Police Chief Roosevelt Smith is sworn in by Judge Curtis Miller.
Lithonia Police Chief Roosevelt Smith is sworn in by Judge Curtis Miller in 2014.

In the 15 months Roosevelt Smith has been chief of police of Lithonia, he has created a hostile work environment and engaged in corrupt and unethical practices, according to former and current Lithonia police officers.

The Champion was the first to report that Smith and Lithonia Police Captain Lloyd Owens are being investigated by city officials for an alleged assault on a 17-year-old Isiah Harvey, who was in custody for burglary on Feb. 5. The Champion received police reports and statements about the incident from an anonymous source.

That source also provided a seven page document that outlines and describes multiple incidents involving Smith and Owens. The document is titled “The Problems with the Lithonia Police Department: A Collection of Issues Complied by Lithonia Police Officers, both Past and Present.”

In the document, officers stated that they have filed several complaints with no “real action, reaction or resolution.”

“In the past, we, as a group and individually, have made our concerns known to the Lithonia City [Administrator] Eddie Moody and city council, only to have our complaints revealed directly or indirectly to [Smith] with no resolution,” officers also stated in the document. “Contrary to popular belief, many officers did not leave the police department based on finding better opportunities. Many officers left because it was the apparent lack of concern from the city [administrator] and/or city council and the countless times their complaints were not satisfactorily addressed, if addressed at all.”

Moody said he would investigate all of the complaints.

“I’m going to look at this whole thing in totality,” he said. “I’m taking the most recent thing [the Feb. 5 incident] first and then I’m going to work backwards. It will be a part of a whole big scope of work.”

Moody also pointed out that no particular officers’ names were signed on the document. The document is signed “A collection of past and present Lithonia Officers.”

“I can imagine, probably, why no names where attached because there are probably very few people who would come [forth],” Moody said.

Smith would not comment on the complaints due the current investigation.

Complaints against Smith

In the document, officers stated that Smith “has engaged in corrupt and unethical practices, mismanagement, violation of oath, favoritism and nepotism, and has exhibited hostility, bigotry and bullying and has made verbal threats towards his subordinates, created a hostile work environment and committed crimes against the general public.”

In one incident, during the IGLOO—Di Original Cooler Party (a Jamaican festival) at Lithonia Amphitheatre in May 2015, former officer Foster Hill witnessed Smith and another officer, Sgt. Angela Hatchett, collecting money from partygoers for parking on properties outside the Amphitheatre.

According to the complaint, when Hill advised Hatchett that she could not collect money for parking, she told Hill that she was following Smith’s instructions and she gave the collected money to Smith.

“The pair thereafter ceased collecting money,” the complaint read. “Subsequently, Sgt. Hatchett asked Chief Smith what he was going to do with the money already collected. Chief Smith advised Sgt. Hatchett that he was going to put the money in a slush fund. Per this discussion, the slush fund would be applied to purchasing new Tasers.”

The Champion was at the May 4, 2015 Lithonia City Council meeting where residents complained about the noise level and other things they saw from partygoers. One resident said she saw police officers charging partygoers to park in some areas, but Smith denied the claim at the time.

“There were residents charging people $15 to $20 to park at [an apartment complex] and at [a nearby church],” Smith said at the time. “When we saw that we made them give the people their money back.”

According to the document, Hill asked Moody and other supervisors about the slush fund—none of whom confirmed the fund’s existence.

“Moody advised that he would investigate the matter, but nothing, to our knowledge, was ever done about the incident,” the document stated.

One month later, in June 2015, Hill was accused by a complainant (later identified as Smith) of smoking marijuana with a defendant at Hill’s home, according to the document. Hill was ordered by Owens to take a polygraph test at Georgia Department of Public Safety headquarters on Constitution Ave. in Atlanta. When the polygraph examiner asked Hill if he knew why he had to take the test, Hill gave the examiner the paperwork provided to him from Owens.

“However, once the examiner saw the paperwork, the examiner noticed that the paperwork did not match the file previously forwarded to Georgia State Patrol,” the document read. “No paperwork presented to the Georgia State Patrol identified a complainant.”

The document claims Owens told Hill that Smith was the complainant and filed the complaint based on an anonymous tip. When Hill asked if Smith had filed a written statement about the alleged marijuana incident, Smith allegedly told Hill that he did not have to write an official statement because he was the chief, according to the document.

“In that same exchange, Chief Smith admitted to having ‘a bone to pick’ with Hill because he complained of harassment to Moody,” the document read.

Hill, who spent four years on the Lithonia Police Department, would later resign from the force after Smith had someone—who refused to provide identification—try to conduct a polygraph test on Hill, according to the document.

Hill told The Champion that Smith told a “blatant” lie on him.

“He decimated my character, and it had no merit because if it had merit I would be in jail,” Hill said. “This has been ongoing.”

Hill, who has more than 20 years in law enforcement, said Smith’s actions have no place in a police department.

“When you’re in charge, you can’t do people like that especially with policemen,” Hill said. “That’s what causes animosity in the department.

“If you see how small the department is and see 20 officers just quit like that you would have some type of suspicion,” Hill added. “I have documents where he has stolen, sneaking weapons out of the property room, and [the city] did nothing, zero. I don’t know if it’s politics because they’re trying to get annexation, but I believe that’s what it is. The reason they’re not doing anything to cause bad publicity is because of annexation.”

Was a background check done?

Hill said officers have questioned whether proper background checks were done on Smith and Owens. The Champion alsoreceived copies of Smith’s and Owens’ backgrounds in law enforcement from the anonymous source.

The documents were obtained from the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T) Council. According to the report, Smith has been employed with 12 different law enforcement agencies in Georgia since 1988.

Smith was investigated twice by the P.O.S.T council, once in 1994 and again in 2001, according to the report. According to the 1994 case summary, Smith, then an officer with the McDonough Police Department, damaged a law enforcement vehicle while responding to what he assumed was a call for help from another officer.

According to the case summary, Smith did not file an immediate report as required and was charged with failure to operate a law enforcement vehicle “in such a manner as to avoid injury to persons or damage to property.”

“Upon review, said officer was terminated as a result of the aforementioned violation, which occurred during his/her probationary period of employment,” the summary stated.

The P.O.S.T council did not take further disciplinary action in that investigation, as well in the 2001 investigation, which stated Smith was investigated for obtaining a “criminal history improperly and possibly illegally,” according to the case summery.

Smith was also terminated from his job with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office in 1990. The document did not explain the reason for Smith’s termination.

Hill believes Smith should have never been hired to the Lithonia department.

“If you look at his post record he has been with [12] departments,” Hill said. “How he has enabled his way in and out is beyond me. Common sense will tell you that if you see a record like that, you wouldn’t hire him. Something is wrong.”

 Hill said he and other officers have told city leaders that Smith shows favoritism to Owens. According to Owens’ and Smith’s background information, the two have worked together since 2010 beginning with Morris Brown College Campus Police Department.

Smith was hired by Morris Brown in February 2010 and Owens was hired a month after.

Smith also began working with the Lovejoy Police Department in 2011 as a reserve officer while employed as deputy chief with Morris Brown.

When the Morris Brown department was deactivated, Owens was hired as a peace officer with Lovejoy in January 2013. He was also hired by then Lithonia police chief Moody as an investigator and reserve officer in February 2013. He became a full-time investigator for Lithonia in September 2013.

Smith, who was also hired by Moody as a reserve officer in February 2013, was promoted three months later to captain, according to his record. Smith was then promoted to chief—based on Moody’s recommendation—when Moody was promoted to city administrator in November 2014.

In January 2015, Owens was promoted to sergeant by Smith, and then promoted to captain in January 2016.

Hill said there were other officers who have done more work than Owens has and have been with the department longer than Owens, yet Owens received the promotions.

“Owens has done absolutely nothing,” Hill said. “[Smith] gives this guy all the perks and he conspires with him, and takes the extra jobs from other officers and gives it to this guy. The guy lives with him. Everywhere Chief Smith has been Owens has been.”

Moody said the questions surrounding Smith’s and Owens’ background will be addressed.

“First of all, Lithonia doesn’t pay a big salary,” said Moody. “So when we talk about background checks—people have to be careful how they throw out rocks and hide their hands because everybody has a background.”

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