The swift dismissal of former Columbia police officer Todd Smith last week was based on evidence discovered during an internal investigation of allegations that Smith was stalking an ex-girlfriend.
Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm said Tuesday that the internal investigation, which began Friday morning, revealed sufficient evidence to fire Smith at about 10:30 that evening. By then, a separate criminal investigation had led to Smith’s arrest on suspicion of misdemeanor stalking. Police said Smith used anonymous telephone calls, letters and a vehicular tracking device to stalk the 21-year-old woman.
“I can only say that by late Friday evening, I received enough information to show that there were some significant rule violations separate from the criminal investigation,” Boehm said.
Boehm declined to elaborate on the specifics of the rule violations but said that the burden of proof in internal investigations is different than in criminal investigations and that rule violations, even if they lead to an officer’s dismissal, do not always result in criminal charges.
“The major rule infraction is that you cannot break the law,” he said, “and we found evidence that he did so.”
Smith’s former girlfriend came to police on Thursday afternoon after she said she found what appeared to be a tracking device concealed in her car. Police think Smith purchased the device on the Internet. The woman told police that she had been receiving anonymous telephone calls, letters and text messages since she and Smith’s seven-month relationship ended in mid-December.
Boehm said the decision to fire Smith without delay is evidence that the Police Department does not tolerate inappropriate behavior by its officers. The chief said he informed Smith of his dismissal in person. The six-year veteran of the force said that he understood the decision, Boehm said.
“I prefer to do that in person,” he said, “so I wanted to do that while he was still in custody at the Columbia Police Department.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, no charges had not been filed against Smith. However Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane, citing Smith’s role in about 20 pending criminal cases, said the case will be turned over to Howard County Prosecutor Mason Gebhardt.
Boone County Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton called Gebhardt on Tuesday morning to ask him if he would take the job, and he obliged.
“Special prosecutors are not uncommon with cases with your local police,” Gebhardt said. “It’s a little bit of a conflict.”
Gebhardt has until Jan. 11 to file charges against Smith. However, he said he expects to do so by the end of week.
Smith’s arrest and dismissal cap off a difficult year for the Columbia Police Department. In February, Officer Molly Bowden died after she was shot during a routine traffic stop. Officer Curtis Brown was also shot and wounded, but he has returned to work. In May, former officer Stephen Rios was convicted of the June 2004 murder of MU student Jesse Valencia.
Boehm said he is proud of the department and that officers and staff have done their best to support each other throughout the year.
“We are not all that upset to see it in our rear-view mirror,” he said.