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Willie Smith pleads not guilty to obstruction charge

Thursday, April 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – Former MU basketball star Willie Smith has hired a new attorney who serves on the committee that recommended the establishment of a board to review citizen complaints against police. 

David Tyson Smith, a member of the Citizen Oversight Committee, represented Willie Smith during an arraignment Tuesday in Boone County Circuit Court. He entered a plea of not guilty to a charge of obstructing a government operation in connection with his client's arrest in south Columbia on March 9. Willie Smith did not appear in court.

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David Smith previously represented Alva Scott, who filed a complaint against Columbia police for allegedly using excessive force when arresting her at Columbia Mall in 2006. He was later appointed to the Citizen Oversight Committee, which worked on the question of whether the Police Department's handling of complaints needed oversight. The committee is in the process of drafting an ordinance that would create a citizen review board, pending City Council approval

David Smith said he sees parallels between Alva Scott and Willie Smith's cases.

“They were both innocent individuals who were badly treated by overzealous police officers,” David Smith said.

He said he and his client will fight the charge.

“Willie was just doing his job,” David Smith said. "But nothing he did justified getting beat up by the police."

Willie Smith filed a formal complaint against the Police Department on March 12. The complaint is currently being investigated by the department's Professional Standards Unit.

When reached by phone Wednesday evening, Columbia Police Chief Kenneth Burton said he didn't think it was appropriate for him to comment on Smith's complaint until the unit's review was complete.

Willie Smith's encounter with police occurred on March 9 when police responded to a burglary alarm at Smokin’ Chick’s BBQ Restaurant at 4603 John Garry Drive in south Columbia. Willie Smith, who owns a janitorial service, cleans the neighboring business, Bella Salon, every Sunday night. That night, he was cleaning the salon with his nephew.

Columbia police have said Willie Smith would not show officers his hands and kept them under his armpits, leading police to think that he might have a weapon. According to a probable cause statement signed by Officer Robert Fox, Willie Smith and his nephew continued to refuse to "comply with my lawfull (sic) commands."

But Willie Smith said police never ordered him to show his hands and that the police account of what happened is false.

David Smith called the charge against his client “bogus.”

“Being in the task force has opened my eyes to some things that go on in the Police Department that shouldn’t,” he said.

Willie Smith, who had been represented by Andrew Popplewell of the law firm Eng and Woods, said he switched lawyers not because of a problem with his previous attorney but because of David Smith's work with the committee and his understanding of the issues in the case.

"He is not only interested in my case but in the welfare of the community," Willie Smith said.


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