Former MU basketball player says Columbia Police officers mistreated him

Thursday, March 12, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:57 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Former MU Hall of Fame basketball player Willie Smith said he and his nephew were cleaning Bella Salon on John Gary Drive on Monday morning when the alarm next door at Smokin' Chicks BBQ went off. After police arrived, Smith said, he was sprayed with Mace and received a nose contusion when a police officer threw him against a car. Now he plans to file a complaint against the officers.

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.”

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Kevin Larson March 12, 2009 | 10:26 a.m.

Mr. Smith, I'm so very sorry this happened to you. What a disgrace, what an embarrassment to our community. This is another example of how we have so much further to go in terms of race relations. Unbelievable.

Kevin Larson
Lead Pastor
Karis Church

(Report Comment)
theodore kaczynski March 12, 2009 | 11:09 a.m.

Classic! They must train with the Meter Maids.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush March 12, 2009 | 11:45 a.m.

I pray that someone behind the badge will finally break the no-snitch culture in the CPD and hold these hooligans-in-uniform accountable for their violent behavior. Columbia deserves better.

(Report Comment)
Joe City March 12, 2009 | 12:29 p.m.

CPD is an embarrassment.

Hopefully the new Chief can clean some house.

CPD can't catch red-light runners or admit there are gangs here (can't catch 'em anyway), but they can arrest a pillar in the community for something he didn't even do.
Resisting arrest ?? Yeah right.

You better hope he shows up tomorrow Tom.
I hope he brings his attorney with him.
I further hope that your officer says, "well we got there and there was these two black guys in the parking lot".....

Somebody needs to be fired on this one.

(Report Comment)
Anton Berkovich March 12, 2009 | 1:23 p.m.

How about we just raise the IQ requirements to become a police officer and then we'd have less of this incompetence?

(Report Comment)
Howard Taylor March 13, 2009 | 12:04 p.m. says - Unfortunately this type of incident has become the norm all across the nation and is whole heartedly supported by the government. When Chattanooga police officer Kenneth Freeman attacked the Walmart greeter ( I emailed every U.S. Senator, except a few who's web sites didn't work properly, in the name of and got only one response (Sam Brownback, R-KS) and that was in favor of the police in general. Go to to see for yourself how pervasive police brutality is. Good luck Mr. Smith. I suggest you take an attorney with you to the police station when you make your complaint. Many police departments take advantage of people when they attempt to make complaints and arrest them again to stack up more charges to make the citizen look as bad as possible in court. I would also like to see you demand the officer's take a polygraph test concerning this incident. When cops decline to take polygraph tests you know they are guilty but then again they may be so twisted that they actually think in their putrid minds they did nothing wrong and that would allow them to pass the test. As sick as that sounds it is the case some times.

(Report Comment)
Anton Berkovich March 13, 2009 | 1:19 p.m.

"When cops decline to take polygraph tests you know they are guilty..."

No, you don't. What an idiotic statement.

(Report Comment)
John Doe March 13, 2009 | 3:37 p.m.

Wow.... What a poorly written, slanted article. You have reported solely on one side of the story and now your readers (posting comments) are jumping to conclusions. There are always two sides to a story and you chose to only cover Mr. Smith's side. I am not going to say the police are already right, but it's kind of far fetched to believe they were having a "casual conversation" with the fellow at the site of a possible burglary and the next thing you know they are in a knock down drag out fight. Notice how the nephew wasn't "roughed up" and was immediately released when the police finished investigating the burglar alarm. Could it be that he behaved like a "good citizen" and didn't get up in the cop's face? I also am amused that your readers quickly jumped to the race conclusion. I can assure you if it was two white guys, two mexicans, or whatever in a van parked in front of a store that an alarm was sounding at, the police would detain them as well while they investigated the cause of the alarm. If the white people, mexicans, or whatever cooperated with the investigation and didn't respond to the police's requests like idiots, they would be treated with courtesy. I can assure you they would also have been handcuffed and detained until the cause of the alarm could be determined, and if they reisted the result would have been the same. We complain about the police, but don't actually want them to thoroughly do their jobs and investigate possible criminal activity.

(Report Comment)
Ibelieve innewspapers March 13, 2009 | 5:28 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
Kay Callison March 13, 2009 | 5:34 p.m.

Three things: 1. I know Willie Smith. Not well, but well enough, because my husband worked construction with him for years and has always held him in high regard. He is a gentleman, a peace loving, hard working, stand up guy, a model citizen who gives a lot back to the community. He would never -- I repeat never -- behave in a way to justify being maced and having his nose smashed, much less to be charged with resisting arrest and "obstructing a government operation." And why, with four armed policeman standing round him, would they feel the need to mace him and smash his nose? 2. A friend of mine heard the police scanner call on this. The police knew why Willie and his nephew were there. When they called for back up they reported that there were two men there who had been cleaning in the building. 3. Why would two guys who had just attempted a burglary be sitting in their car when the police arrived? This is very disturbing, and I hope Willie pursues his complaint and that his lawyer can get what have to be bogus charges against him dismissed.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr March 13, 2009 | 7:35 p.m.

Police do not just do what they do for no reason there is always two sides to every story.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley March 13, 2009 | 8:42 p.m.

Art Vandelay March 13, 2009 | 1:19 p.m.

"When cops decline to take polygraph tests you know they are guilty..."

No, you don't. What an idiotic statement.

Not too idiotic, Art. The deal is, that it just might be a pretty good indication they are lying. Please let me explain...

It's not that the polygraph is accurate, because I don't believe it is.

However, the Police have EXTREME faith in the polygraph. They are ALWAYS telling a suspect that if he or she does not submit to a polygraph it looks like they are trying to hide something, or simply not telling the truth. Well, if the Police REALLY believe that, then why would they NOT take a polygraph if they have nothing to hide and are being truthful?


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 14, 2009 | 12:28 p.m.

Maybe because intimidating suspects to take a polygraph test is actually what they have faith in. Not the fact that the device is not considered 100% infallible or conclusive evidence.
At face value, this article implies overzealous police action.
I have faith in our new police chief.
(Just like the polygraph device, even our officers' actions are subject to scrutiny.
It will be interesting to learn how this one shakes out.)

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley March 14, 2009 | 5:46 p.m.

Well what are you saying Ray? The Police don't have any confidence in one of their own tools?


(Report Comment)
Ray Filcher March 18, 2009 | 12:02 a.m.

Charles Dudley Jr. said "Police do not just do what they do for no reason there is always two sides to every story"

(Report Comment)

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