On Feb. 10, Lithonia mayor and city council held a special called executive session to discuss a personnel matter. The city would not elaborate on the specifics of the personnel matter, other than to confirm that an internal complaint was filed against a police officer, according to City Administrator Eddie Moody.
On Feb. 19, The Champion received documents from an anonymous source that explain the basis of the internal complaint. The documents include the police report of a Feb. 5 incident involving Smith and Lithonia Police Captain Lloyd Owens.
The documents also include a “summary of the events” from the suspect, a 17-year-old male. The summary was in an “ante litem notice of demand” from the teen’s lawyer—Frank T. Smith—which was delivered to the city.
According to the police report and statements given by the teen’s lawyer and the responding officer—Sgt. A. Hatchett, Hatchett responded to a burglary call at a home on the evening of Feb. 5.
Two suspects were arrested, including the 17-year-old male, according to the report. After the suspects were taken into custody, Smith and Owens arrived on the scene. The teen, who was handcuffed, was placed in Smith’s patrol car and the other suspect was placed in Hatchett’s patrol car.
The teen had scratches on his face and arms from running through “thick brushes” from the crime scene, according to Hatchett’s statement.
From that point, the teen’s and Hatchett’s statements differ from Smith’s and Owens’ statements.
When Smith—who was sitting in front of his patrol car—was made aware of the scratches on the teen’s face, Smith turned around and asked to see his face, according to all accounts except Owens’ report.
“When [the teen] turned his head in an unsatisfactorily manner, Chief Smith quickly, and without provocation, became enraged, leaned over his seat and made punching movements at the face of [the teen] before grabbing him by the lower chin/jaw and squeezing tightly,” the teen’s lawyer stated.
Hatchett stated that when the teen turned his head, “Chief said, ‘Boy, don’t you play with me.’”
“[The teen] then continued turning his head really [quickly] left to right,” Hatchett stated. “Chief Smith became very angry, took his left hand, grabbed [the teen] by his lower jaw area and started squeezing very hard inflicting pain on [the teen].”
The teen’s lawyer and Hatchett both stated that the teen began screaming at Smith for him to release his jaw. The lawyer said Owens was standing outside the car and the teen called out to Owens asking him for help.
“But none was given,” the lawyer stated.
According to both statements, Smith then grabbed the teen’s throat and started squeezing.
“Chief Smith choked [the teen] for at least seven to ten seconds,” Hatchett stated.
The lawyer stated Owens then opened the rear driver’s side door and held the teen while Smith continued to choke him.
“[The teen] continued his objections to the offensive touching [while] trying to free himself from Chief Smith’s throat hold,” the lawyer stated. “In retaliation, Chief Smith, while leaning over his front seat, purposefully and without justification, wrapped his hands around [the teen’s] wrist, squeezed, and then continued to hold the handcuffs around [the teen’s] wrist to the point where blood was drawn and the areas swelled.”
Hatchett stated that Smith wanted to put the teen in the seat belt.
“At that point, Captain L. Owens opened the back door of Chief Smith’s vehicle and they began pulling, tugging and grabbing on [the teen] and a struggled ensued. There was no reason for Chief Smith and Captain L. Owens to make any attempt to try and place [the teen] in a seat belt in that vehicle because I was transporting both subjects to the jail in my vehicle,” Hatchett stated.
The lawyer and Hatchett both stated that Smith then asked for Hatchett’s Taser. Hatchett stated that she gave the Taser to Smith but did not see if he used it or attempted to use it as she was in her patrol unit getting the paper work ready for transport.
“I only heard [the teen] said, ‘O, you going to Taser me?’ Hatchett stated.
The teen’s lawyer said Smith turned on the Taser.
“Chief Smith then held the Taser gun at [the teen’s] side before pulling back and pointing the Taser gun at [the teen’s] head. [The teen] had a real belief that Chief Smith was going to discharge the Taser gun while Chief Smith pointed the Taser gun at his head,” teen’s lawyer stated.
The lawyer stated all of this occurred while the teen was handcuffed.
Hatchett stated that what Smith and Owens did was wrong.
“Chief Smith and Captain L. Owens assaulted [the teen],” she stated. “There was no reason at all for them to put their hands on [the teen] in that matter. Their actions were unjustifiable and unethical.”
The incident report of Smith and Owens tell a different account.
Smith stated that as he was checking the teen’s face for cuts, the teen became “combative and began to try and kick, unlocking his seatbelt.”
“The suspect kneed me in the chest and began to threaten my life, making statements of killing me,” Smith stated. “I placed my hand around the suspect’s neck to gain control of him. Sgt. Hatchett and Capt. Owens helped me to control him in the seat.”
Smith said the teen tried to kick the door open, and then Smith asked for Hatchett’s Taser, turning on the light on him.
“At no time was the Taser deployed,” Smith stated.
In Owens’ incident report, he stated he heard the teen kicking and making threats to kill Smith. He said he opened the door to assist Smith in securing the teen in the seatbelt. When Owens tried to secure the teen in the seatbelt, Owens said the teen tried to unbuckle the seatbelt.
“[The teen] continued to unbuckle the seatbelt, and at some point was able to unlock the door and pull the door handle, kicking the rear door open, hitting myself and Sgt. Hatchett, knocking her glasses off of her face.”
Smith would not comment on the incident and the allegations due to it being under investigation.
“I’m letting them do what the city does; what it’s authorized to do,” Smith said. “We’ll go from there.”
Moody, who is conducting the investigation, did not give a timetable of when the investigation could be completed.
“I’m still in the process of pulling this stuff together,” Moody said. “It’s still an open investigation.”
The teen’s lawyer has given the city 30 days to respond to the ante litem notice of demand before he decides whether to file a lawsuit. The notice was dated Feb. 11.
“As of right now they have not responded,” he said.
The lawyer said the goal of the notice was to let the city know of the chief’s actions.
“The hopes were that they would at least put the chief and the captain on administrative leave while they investigate it,” the lawyer said. “They didn’t do that. I believe it was a 3-2 vote to let him remain in his position while he’s being investigated. And then they dragged their feet after that, especially in light of Sgt. Hatchett’s statement.”
The family of the teen requested a $75,000 settlement in the notice. Attorney Frank Smith was the city’s solicitor for 10 years, and said he knows how slow the city moves in handling legal matters.
“I just didn’t think they would move,” he said. “So to put a light under their feet, if you start to ask for money then they’ll take things more seriously.”
Smith also said he and the teen’s family is opposed to Moody conducting the investigation. Moody was the chief of police before he was promoted to city administrator. Moody recommended Smith to take over as chief.
“I think it’s biased—instead of having someone from the outside, the GBI, the District Attorney’s office or anybody other than someone who you frequently go to lunch with investigate you for something that serious,” Attorney Smith said.
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