COLUMBIA – Former MU basketball player and MU Hall of Famer Willie Smith says he was treated like a criminal and roughed up by Columbia police early Monday morning and that he is filing a formal complaint against the officers.
Smith, a 1976 graduate of MU and an All-American player, was arrested Monday morning outside Smokin’ Chick's BBQ Restaurant at 4603 John Garry Drive in Columbia.
Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner said Wednesday that Smith had not yet filed a complaint. “I hope he shows up tomorrow,” he said.
Smith is the owner of Magic Services Inc., a cleaning service in Columbia. He also owns Mama Bessie's Dry Cleaning with his wife, Margaret Hickem. Early Monday, he and his nephew were cleaning Bella Salon next to the barbecue restaurant, as Smith does every Sunday, when the burglar alarm at the restaurant went off.
Smith and his nephew were in their car when the police officer who first responded to the scene “casually” questioned Smith, he said.
“I didn’t flaunt my name because I don’t think you should have to be anyone special to be treated fairly,” Smith said.
The first officer then called for backup. When the rest of the officers arrived, four officers with weapons drawn surrounded the car Smith was sitting in with his nephew, he said.
Smith said the officers ordered his nephew to put his hands on the dash and ordered Smith to get out of the car.
When police told Smith he was being arrested and handcuffed, he turned slightly toward one of the officers to ask why, he said. That officer sprayed him with Mace, shoved his head into the side of the car, and then put him in the back seat of a police car where he remained for two hours, he said.
Smith's nephew was handcuffed, but later was released without having been arrested.
Smith was treated at an emergency room for bruises and an injured nose.
Smith said he is now prepared to file a formal complaint against the police officers. His lawyer, Andrew Popplewell of the Law Office of Eng and Woods, said the action is especially important because the police arrested Smith that night. He faces a charge of resisting arrest and obstructing a government operation.
Dresner said he had begun to look into the incident and that when the department has a formal complaint in hand, it will begin a Professional Standards Unit investigation.
A woman who works at Bella Salon and asked to be described only as a member of the salon’s staff said the alarm at Smokin’ Chick’s is sensitive and that she once set it off herself while locking up the salon. She said Smith always cleans the salon at night to make time for family obligations on Sunday afternoons.
The incident has soured Smith’s view of the Police Department, he said.
“I have always cooperated with the police and am very pro-law enforcement,” he said.
He noted that he had been opposed to the idea of a citizen board to review complaints against the Police Department but now he's changed his mind.
“We need (a Citizen Review Board),” he said. “We need fully qualified people who are objective and fair.”
Smith said that in this case, the police acted against the oath they are supposed to uphold — to protect and serve. He said he worries for his two teenage boys, who he hopes never have any encounters with the police.
“I have heard people say stuff about the police,” he said, and he had doubts about stories of mistreatment. “But now after this, I am appalled, embarrassed and humiliated.”