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Felony stop leaves family traumatized

Discussion in 'Legal' started by Preacherman, Jan 4, 2003.

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  1. Preacherman

    Preacherman Well-Known Member

    Just to show how really difficult it can be to assess an incident, especially when viewed from two different sides... The first article below describes the situation from the family's point of view. The second, below that, describes it from the viewpoint of the police. Judge for yourselves...

    From the Herald Citizen of Cookeville, Tennessee (http://www.herald-citizen.com/NF/omf.wnm/herald/news_story.html?[rkey=0024251+[cr=gdn):

    'Felony stop' leaves family traumatized

    Mary Jo Denton
    Herald-Citizen Staff

    Published January 02, 2003 11:54 AM CST

    It was the most traumatic experience the Smoak family of North Carolina has ever had, and it happened yesterday afternoon as they traveled through Cookeville on their way home from a vacation in Nashville.

    Before their ordeal was over, three members of the family had been yanked out of their car and handcuffed on the side of Interstate 40 in downtown Cookeville, and their beloved dog, Patton, had been shot to death by a police officer as they watched.

    What was their crime?

    There was no crime.

    But a passerby with a cell phone apparently assumed a crime had occurred when a wallet flew from a car on Interstate 40 near Nashville.

    That citizen called police and inadvertently set in motion what would make it the most horrible vacation the James Smoak family of Saluda, North Carolina, has ever had.

    Today, the Smoak children and their parents were still weeping over what happened to them in Cookeville.

    By today, they had also filed complaints with two police agencies, prompting internal investigations, they had met with Tennessee Highway Patrol Capt. Randy Hoover, and they were on their way to talk to Cookeville Mayor Charles Womack.

    Because official internal investigations are underway at the Tennessee Highway Patrol and at the Cookeville Police Dept., the Herald-Citizen was unable to get details of those two agencies' accounts of the incident.

    But the Smoak family willingly told their story to anyone who would listen; they hope by doing so that something might be done to prevent it from happening to another family.

    James Smoak, 38, who was traveling in the family station wagon with his wife, Pamela, their 17-year-old son, Brandon, and the family's two pet bulldogs, Patton and Cassie, had lost his wallet after stopping for gas as they left Davidson County on Wednesday afternoon.

    But he didn't know he lost it. Apparently, he had placed it on top of the car while pumping gas, and it flew off somewhere on the highway a short time later.

    Not knowing his wallet was lost, he and his family traveled on, heading east on their way home to North Carolina.

    A few cars behind James and Pamela's station wagon, his parents and the two younger Smoak children were traveling in the elder Smoak's car.

    Just a few miles east of Cookeville, James Smoak began to notice that a THP squad car was following him, though the officer was not pulling him over, just staying behind him, changing lanes any time Smoak did, moving in and out of traffic each time Smoak did.

    "It was obvious he was looking at me, not at other vehicles, and I'm thinking I must have done something (in my driving), but I don't know what," Smoak said today.

    When Smoak reached the 287 exit area in Cookeville, three other police cars suddenly appeared, and the trooper then turned on blue lights and pulled the Smoak car over.

    "I immediately pulled to the side, and expecting him to come to the window, I started reaching for my wallet to get my license and it was not there," Smoak said.

    About that time, he heard the officer broadcast orders over a bullhorn, telling him to toss the keys out the car window and get out with his hands up and walk backwards to the rear of the car.

    Still not knowing what he was being stopped for, Smoak obeyed, and when he reached the back of the car, with a gun pointed at Smoak, the trooper ordered him to get on his knees, face the back of the car and put his head down.

    When he did that, the officer handcuffed him and placed him in the patrol car. Then the same orders were blared over the bullhorn to "passenger" and Pamela Smoak got out with her hands up, was ordered to the ground, held at gunpoint, and handcuffed. Next, Brandon was ordered out and handcuffed in the same way.

    Terrified at what was happening to them for no reason they knew, the family was also immediately concerned about their two pet dogs being left in the car there on the highway with the car doors open.

    "We kept asking the officers -- there were several officers by now -- to close the car doors because of our dogs, but they didn't do it," said Pamela Smoak.

    And as the officers worked in the late evening darkness, their weapons drawn as the Smoaks were being handcuffed, the dog Patton came out of the car and headed toward one of the Cookeville Police officers who was assisting the THP.

    "That officer had a flashlight on his shotgun, and the dog was going toward that light and the officer shot him, just blew his head off," said Pamela Smoak.

    "We had begged them to shut the car doors so our dogs wouldn't get out, and they didn't do that."

    As the dog was heading out of the car toward the officer, "we had yelled, begging them to let us get him, but the officer shot him," she said.

    Grieving for their dog and in shock over their apparent arrest for some unknown crime, the family could only wait. At one point, one state trooper did tell them they "matched the description" in a robbery that had occurred in Davidson County, Pamela Smoak said.

    The ordeal went on for a time after that, the family terrified and in grief over the dog.

    Finally, after a time, someone in authority figured out that the officers here had stopped and were holding the very family that someone in Davidson County had assumed had been robbed, though how that assumption grew to the authorization for a felony stop, James Smoak cannot understand, he said today.

    "Finally, they asked me my name and I told them my name, date of birth, and other information, and they talked by radio to someone in Davidson County and finally realized that a mistake had been made," he said.

    "A lady in Davidson County had seen that wallet fly off our car and had seen money coming out of it and going all over the road, and somehow that became a felony and they made a felony stop, but no robbery or felony had happened," Pamela Smoak said.

    "Apparently, they had listened to some citizen with a cell phone and let her play detective down there," said James Smoak.

    "Here we are just a family on vacation, and we had to suffer this."

    When the officers did discover the mistake, "they said, 'Okay, we're releasing you and we're sorry,'" Smoak said.

    As soon as Brandon was released from the handcuffs, he rushed over to the dead dog and began to cry, Smoak said.

    And that's when one of the most infuriating parts of the ordeal happened, according to James Smoak.

    "I saw one of the THP officers walk over to the city officer who had shot the dog and grin," he said.

    He reported that to the supervising officer, THP Lt. Jerry Andrews, and Andrews "was very nice, very professional," Smoak said.

    "He told me the officer was not laughing, but I know he was," said Smoak.

    Smoak's parents had come along behind the other car and had seen all the commotion and stopped too, and now all three children were crying over their pet dog, as they were still doing today.

    The Smoaks gathered the body of their pet and went to a motel here to spend the night. But they didn't get much rest, and at one point, James Smoak became so upset he had to go to the hospital for medical treatment.

    They also worked throughout last night to contact all the authorities they could in order to lodge their complaints about what had happened.

    Today, Beth Womack, a THP spokesperson in Nashville, told the H-C that an Internal Affairs investigation is underway and that every effort will be made to "find out exactly what happened and why."

    "As I understand it, a report was made in Davidson County to our officers that this car had been seen leaving at a high rate of speed and that a significant amount of money had come out of the car and someone became suspicious," she said.

    An internal investigation is also underway at the Cookeville Police Dept., Capt. Nathan Honeycutt told the H-C today.

    James Smoak wonders about the logic of "a robber who would be tossing the money out of the car."

    He also wonders about police procedure that would "take this insinuation from a citizen" and "turn it into what happened to us."

    "Out there after they handcuffed us at gunpoint and put us in the police cars, they did not ask for ID, and later on, they actually released us just on my word about my identity, with only the confirmation by radio from an officer in Davidson County who was looking at my lost wallet and the ID in it down there," he said. "What if I actually had been a robber and not just a family man on vacation?"

    His children hope they never come to Tennessee for another vacation.

    "Poor Patton," said 13-year-old Jeb Smoak. "When he was killed out there, it was the first time I ever saw my brother, Brandon, cry. Brandon is the toughest person I've ever met, and he cried."

    The other dog, a puppy named Cassie, was "trembling all over" after the ordeal, Jeb Smoak said.

    "She's being real quiet today. She knows we're all grieving."

    James Smoak, though still deeply upset today, said he understands that "the officer will say the dog was coming after him."

    But it could all have been prevented, didn't have to happen, he is convinced.

    In addition to telling his family's story to Capt. Randy Hoover, who "was very nice and very professional," and to a Cookeville Police official last night and to Mayor Womack today, Smoak also plans to tell his lawyer, he said.

    "And I also want to tell it to the Tennessee Department of Tourism," he said.


    That describes it from the family's point of view. Now, another article in the same newspaper, a bit later, describing it from the cop's perspective (http://www.herald-citizen.com/NF/omf.wnm/herald/news_story.html?[rkey=0024265+[cr=gdn):

    Officer who shot dog 'protecting self'

    Mary Jo Denton
    Herald-Citizen Staff

    Published January 03, 2003 12:15 PM CST

    The police officer who shot and killed a dog during an incident on Interstate 40 here on New Year's Day says he felt he had no choice.

    He was about to be attacked by the animal, he says.

    And the whole episode originated with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, not the Cookeville Police Dept., city officials stress.

    It was the THP officers who made the felony stop of a vehicle in which a North Carolina family was traveling, and the Cookeville Police Dept. was merely asked to come out and assist as backup officers.

    State troopers involved were David Bush, David Roark, Jeff Phann, and Lt. Jerry Randolph.

    Cookeville Police Officers Eric Hall and Mead McWhorter were dispatched to the I-40/S. Jefferson area at 5:14 p.m. that day to assist the THP.

    That is, the THP asked the city force for help before initiating the stop, and the officers were sent there not knowing any details of the case.

    As it turned out, the James and Pamela Smoak family of Saluda, North Carolina, say they were victims of a police mistake which began somewhere in Davidson County where they had stopped to get gas after visiting Nashville on a vacation.

    James Smoak had lost his wallet as he drove off from the gas station in Davidson County, and someone who saw the wallet fly off the top of his car became suspicious and called the authorities.

    From that point, someone in some law enforcement agency there apparently came to believe a robbery had occurred and began a search on the highway for the car to which the wallet's information led them.

    In Cookeville, the car was stopped by the THP, and the family was ordered out of the vehicle at gunpoint and handcuffed.

    And when their pet bulldog, Patton, came out of the car, one officer on the scene shot and killed the dog. The family was very upset and later filed complaints with both police agencies.

    But the city officers who were sent to the scene to help another agency that day believe they performed their duties as they should have.

    Here is Officer Hall's account of his part in the case:

    "I was dispatched to assist THP with a felony stop that they were going to initiate at I-40 and S. Jefferson. While enroute to the call, I asked dispatch to find out what felony had been committed and to get a description of the suspect vehicle.

    "Dispatch was not able to give me the information before I arrived on the scene. Once I was on the scene, I noticed that THP was already in the process of getting the suspects out of the vehicle.

    "I retrieved my issue shotgun and took a position beside Officer McWhorter who was taking cover on the right side of the lead THP patrol car. Officer McWhorter and I covered the suspects with long guns while the state troopers did the hands-on.

    "Suddenly, a dog, I believe to be a pit-bull, jumped from the suspect vehicle, singled me out from the other officers, and charged toward me growling in an aggressive manner.

    "I yelled at the dog to 'get back' but it attempted to circle me to attack, so I felt that I had no other option but to protect myself.

    "I fired once at the dog, instantly putting him down. VHS tape from in vehicle camera placed into evidence."

    Here is Officer McWhorter's account of what happened:

    "I responded to I-40 in order to assist THP on a felony stop. On arrival, I approached from the passenger side of Trooper Bush's unit. I took a position of cover at the passenger door of his unit. I provided cover from the location. The suspects were removed from the vehicle.

    "As a trooper went forward to cuff the suspects, Officer Hall and I flanked to the right to maintain cover on the suspects and the uncleared vehicle. I passed a trooper my handcuffs. He cuffed the last subject.

    "A dog exited the vehicle and focused on Officer Hall. The dog rapidly approached Officer Hall. Officer Hall stepped backwards and yelled get back. The dog continued toward the officer as he stepped back. Officer Hall shot the dog at the point that the dog would not retreat.

    "When I saw that the threat had been stopped, I resumed cover on the vehicle. I assisted a trooper in clearing the vehicle. I assisted until I was released by the senior trooper."

    The Smoak family, both in interviews with this newspaper and in formal complaints they later filed with the two police agencies, said they begged the officers at the scene to close their car doors so that their two pet dogs, both bulldogs, would not get out onto the highway.

    The Smoaks' 17-year-old son, Brandon, said in his written account:

    "All I could do is what they said. After I was handcuffed I realized that the front passenger door was open. My mom and I was begging to shut the door to the police officer next to me because we had two dogs in the car.

    "One was a puppy, and the other was General Patton, a well trained dog that was scared and didn't know what was going on. Only if Officer Jeff Phann had shut the door or if they would have helped us by returning our wallet to us, instead pointing guns at us and taking a member of the family."

    Here is Pamela Smoak's account of asking, after she was in handcuffs, for the car door to be closed:

    "I asked the officer who was standing next to my son, about two feet from the open door to please shut the door so my dog wouldn't get out. I asked him several times, and he refused to shut the door.

    "My dog then came out of the car and ran towards the officer with the shotgun and flashlight. We started yelling to please let us get him, don't shoot, he was only barking at the flashlight and jumping at the light. My son plays with him using a flashlight.

    "This is when my dog was murdered. Anyway, this whole thing was a screw-up. A felony stop was made but no felony was committed."

    Within an hour of the stop, the THP learned that no robbery had occurred and that James Smoak had merely lost his wallet. The family was released then.

    Officials at the Tennessee Highway Patrol station here and at the Dept. of Safety in Nashville say the whole incident is being reviewed.

    An internal investigation is also being made by the Cookeville Police Dept.
  2. sm

    sm member

    Traumatized is right. Be interesting to see how pans out.
  3. WonderNine

    WonderNine member

    Classic police state no-tolerance B.S.

    Ripped them out of their car and placed them in handcuffs inside of a police car? What has this country come to? Whatever happened to unreasonable search and seizure? I guess a concerned call from a citizen on a cell phone negates all of that.

    The supreme law of the land is overruled by some dude on a cellphone.
  4. PUMC_TomG

    PUMC_TomG Well-Known Member

    I smell a lawsuit and an "undisclosed settlement". Send this out people... the more publicity the better... Damn trigger happy cops from what it sounds like...

    But none of us were there so we can't comment too much on what we woulda done in his situation.... However OC spray comes to mind for me immediately... what's the cops excuse?
  5. WonderNine

    WonderNine member

    I agree TomG, we weren't there so we can't be judge, jury, and executioner, but it looks like from what this country has gone too, the police were already afforded that luxury.
  6. DerRottweiler

    DerRottweiler Well-Known Member

    This makes me so mad I can't see streight!
    Those Idiot Officers gave all Officers a Black Eye in the Public's eye. And they will never understand why the Public is growing more distrusting of them everyday.
    Any Idiot with half a brain can tell the difference between a Bulldog and a Pit Bull.
  7. Kevlarman

    Kevlarman Well-Known Member

    If it were me handcuffed on the ground, I would've got up and shut the door myself, seeing as how the officers didn't do it. What are they gonna do? Shoot me in the back? I'd wouldn't be surprised if the answer was yes. Then they'd have an even bigger lawsuit to settle.
  8. Jim March

    Jim March Well-Known Member

    I'd bet good money the cops got a headful of "you ain't tellin' US what to do!" when the family asked 'em to close the doors to the car.

    The cops assumed it was because the family didn't want something spotted.

    It's funny, but just yesterday night I was coming out of a grocery store and walking up to my bike. Two guys were walking away from their SUV arguing and yelling at each other, and a cop pulled up to scope out the situation...one of the two guys was verbally combative, started to walk away, the cop yelled at him to come back and basically things were getting tense. Ain't my problem, so I'm putting my helmet on to get the heck out o' there, and that's when I noticed the dog in the SUV. A *big* dog, 80+ lbs, not sure of breed. Sticking his head out of the fully open window.

    Ohhhh heck. And the cop's got his back somewhat towards the dog, probably ain't seen it yet because he's focused on having words with an idiot. The dog was staring intently at the verbal argument, no growling or barking but clearly VERY alert and nervous.

    What to do, what to do. Option #1, walk over and tell the cop "excuse me officer, but there's a big ol' dog over there who seems very interested in the proceedings, and isn't confined...". Downsides: arguing parties (including the belligerant one) ain't gonna be happy with me. God only knows how the cop will react.

    Option #2, get on my bad motorscooter and ride the heck outta there.

    I pondered it while putting my gloves on. "Lesse, I'm in San Jose, with an extremely anti-self-defense police department, if things go south and I end up pulling a 5.5" blade (sole weapon) on man or beast I'm gonna get crucified, 'specially since this police chief knows me from the CCW wars...".

    That settled it. I boogied. I hope the four of 'em had a lovely evening, God only knows how it turned out.


    Anyways. Damn cops in Tennessee shoulda know a doggie can "join the fun" unless prevented.

    Macho morons.
  9. Justin Moore

    Justin Moore Well-Known Member

    So does a phone call from a concerned member of the Stasi ;)

    Anyone remember "Operation TIPS"? :cuss:
  10. 1goodshot

    1goodshot Well-Known Member

    The cop who shot the dog should be fired,and sued.Mybe next time he will shoot a person. Sounds like a trigger happy cop to me. I would have closed the door to the car when I got out,but the cops should have done that when asked.:mad:
  11. dave

    dave Well-Known Member

    Never mind. You guys already have your minds made up.
  12. hammer4nc

    hammer4nc Well-Known Member

    Interesting to note, that the police report omitted ANY MENTION of the repeated requests by the "suspects" to close the car door for the dog's safety. Whats up with that?? :confused:

    The officer will be placed on paid leave and ordered to attend remedial class in report writing, as the investigation will conclude everything else he did was exactly per dept. procedure and training. :mad:
  13. Waitone

    Waitone Well-Known Member

    I have little use for tort lawyers because of the unchecked power to destroy that they have.

    However, there are cases when their services are required. Here is one case where only civil litigation is going to sort out the truth.

    Shows how fast and how bad things can go wrong ONCE INITIAL ASSUMPTIONS ARE MADE. I would like to know how the initial assmption was made that a felony was made.

    Shotgunning the dog? I buy LEO's story right up until I learned the Griswolds repeatedly asked them to close the car door. Then there is the anticdote of the big grin.

    Sounds to like a cocktail of boredom, testosterone, and adreniline. Someone needs to pay and pay bigtime.
  14. tyme

    tyme Well-Known Member

    Let's see... citizens won't get out to vote, politicians don't follow the Constitution, and police in general won't protect their image by disassociating themselves with the small minority of bad officers. Just another day in the Grand 'Ol US of A.
  15. El Tejon

    El Tejon Well-Known Member

    I'm confused. They found Mr. Smoak's wallet on the ground and the Land of Orange mall ninjas think HE'S the robber?

    When a citizen calls to make a complaint, you are to investigate and gather evidence. The police are the professional witnesses of the prosecutor--the hands, eyes and ears. Why did they not see if a crime (that nutty corpus delicti) had alleged transpired. Maybe talk to a witness or a victim?

    Hope this incident is used to train Land of Orange coppers--on what not to do.
  16. Beren

    Beren Moderator Emeritus

    I don't understand why the police wouldn't have closed the doors when asked to do so. The vehicle was stopped - it wasn't going to go anywhere. The situation was contained. The police had all the time in the world to sort out the facts of what happened, and then, if still necessary, search the vehicle as part of a legitimate arrest.

    Willful negligence is clearly evident on the part of the police officers in this case. I, too, see an "undisclosed settlement" in the future.
  17. Mustang

    Mustang Member

    Gee, a couple in a station wagon, with dogs no less. Must be Bonnie and Clyde!

    Couldn't put 2 and 2 together to close a friggin door, huh? A street full of cops and no one can think ahead two seconds to prevent a dog from coming out to do his job? Brilliant, guys!
  18. F4GIB

    F4GIB Well-Known Member

    You bet the officer SMILED after he shot the dog. One of the nearby cities to me appears to have an unofficial "bounty" on family dogs. They shoot them as a matter of course.

    After all, he joined the force to feel the power. Otherwise he'd have gone to college.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2003
  19. Atticus

    Atticus Well-Known Member

    "Officer who shot dog 'protecting self' "

    If that was me and my family..THAT would become his fulltime job.
  20. Baba Louie

    Baba Louie Well-Known Member

    It was a FELONY STOP people. Tension level up a notch or two?
    Cops at scene doing what they had to do.
    Close the door? FELONY Stop. Dogs inside? Felony Stop.
    Adrenaline pumping. Felony Stop.
    Pit Bull. Not a tea-cup Chihuahua.

    Hard choices made in a half a second.

    How many times have cops been lied to? Felony Stop. Lies? Pit Bull. Jumping at you?
    Close the door please! (Whattarethey trying to hide?)

    These Cops are people, trying to do their job daily. 8 hours of boredom, 3 minutes of terror. Great pay.

    I guess my Dad was wrong when he told me that sometimes bad things happen to good people.

    Truly a cryin shame for ALL involved.

    I hope the whole precinct/shift goes in and buys the family a new puppy, with PUBLIC apologies, full page ad in paper, etc.

    Who made the decision to make a wallet/cash fluttering in the breeze a felonious stop?

    They were there, we weren't and I'm kinda glad I wasn't on either end of that debacle.

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