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Audio tape crucial in Columbia Police Department's investigation of Willie Smith

Friday, May 22, 2009 | 5:16 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — An audio recording of  Willie Smith's arrest at the scene of a burglary alarm investigation prompted Columbia police to decide that the arresting officer did not use excessive force, the department has concluded.

In an internal investigation released Thursday, the department found that the officer who arrested Smith acted appropriately in the March 9 incident in which the former MU basketball star was charged with resisting arrest.

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Smith filed a complaint March 12 alleging that a Columbia Police officer used excessive force while arresting him. The investigation into his complaint was conducted by the department's Professional Standards Unit.

In the most detailed police account of the incident so far, Thursday's release describes how police officers responding to an alarm at the Smokin' Chicks Restaurant on John Garry Drive the morning of March 9 found Smith and a passenger in a car next to the business.

Smith, who owns a janitorial service, was cleaning Bella Salon next to the barbecue restaurant with his nephew when the burglar alarm went off, according to previous Missourian reporting.

The police account states that as police were responding to the incident, they were advised that there had been a commercial burglary in the vicinity within the last few weeks.

A responding officer asked Smith to put his hands on the dashboard, but he refused, according to a police recording of the incident. The officer continued to ask Smith to reveal his hands, and he ignored the request. The officer then asked him to step out of the vehicle.

The police account states that Smith responded with profanity, and an officer had to use pepper spray in order to take him into custody.

According to the Columbia Police Department, audio and video recordings from the scene of the incident were reviewed by Lt. John White, supervisor of the Professional Standards Unit, which conducts investigations of complaints against police. White also interviewed officers at the scene where Smith was arrested, as well as a person at the scene. Smith, on advice from his attorney, refused to give a statement for the department's internal investigation.

White concluded that the officer involved acted appropriately, given the available evidence.

Smith's lawyer, David Tyson Smith, said he understands the department is only working with one side of the story and that this is because he has advised Willie Smith to not make any comment while a criminal charge is pending against him. But he added that he was disappointed with the Professional Standards Unit's internal investigation and that the officers' story does not make sense.

"It doesn't make sense to not show your hands when you've got a gun in your face," he said. "Willie's not a fool."

David Tyson Smith, who is not related to Willie Smith, said it's problematic that all the information is coming from the officer who pepper-sprayed his client. He said he has not heard of any officer on record corroborating the arresting officer's story. "Everyone's quick to say they didn't see it," he said.

"It's one guy who did the macing, and he has the incentive to be not completely forthright," David Tyson Smith said.

He added he has obtained about an hour of audio from the Police Department, and from what he has reviewed he has not heard audio of the actual arrest.

On Tuesday, Willie Smith's trial on the resisting arrest charge was postponed to give David Tyson Smith more time to try to gather video of the incident from any of the businesses near Smokin' Chicks. David Tyson Smith said Friday no businesses had video of the incident.


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