Pele Smith's lawsuit accuses Lorain, Ohio, police of excessive use of force
Police deny Smith's allegations, say video "does not tell the complete story"
Pele Smith is suing the Lorain Police Department in Ohio, alleging use of excessive force after an encounter with an officer in 2014 ended with his face getting smashed into a cruiser windshield so hard the glass broke.
Dashboard camera footage from Lorain police released this week shows an officer leading Smith to a police cruiser. The 32-year-old was detained on suspicion of jaywalking and potential possession of drugs, Lorain police said.
In the video, as Smith gets closer to the vehicle, his body abruptly shifts paths, and his face is slammed into the front windshield. The officer is out of the camera’s view right before Smith’s face meets the windshield.
“I know it doesn’t look good,” Lorain Police Capt. Roger Watkins said. “But our intention wasn’t for him to hit the windshield.”
Smith filed the lawsuit in August, nearly two years after the incident.
The police department has denied the allegations in Smith’s lawsuit, according to a statement from Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera. Rivera released a statement Thursday after the video was made public, stating it “does not tell the complete story.”
On September 4, 2014, police were patrolling near Palm Elementary School after the narcotics bureau received a drug complaint, according to a police report.
Lorain police Detective Timothy Thompson spotted Smith crossing the street toward the school and stopped him, according to the report. Thompson was familiar with Smith from “several past encounters,” including drug complaints, he wrote in the report.
After stopping him, Thompson saw Smith swallow an item he was holding in his hand – what officers believed could be a bag of heroin or cocaine, the report said. The officers handcuffed Smith after he swallowed the substance.
Officer Zachary Ferenec then arrived and escorted Smith to his cruiser. Right before Ferenec reached the cruiser, Smith’s face hit the windshield.
“Smith began pushing against me with his body,” Ferenec said in the police report, describing the struggle between the two.
As the two got closer to the car, Ferenec wrote, “Smith made an abrupt push against me increasing his resistance. I pushed forward to counter his quick forceful pressure.”
The entire encounter takes 6 seconds in the video – from Smith starting to walk toward the cruiser led by Ferenec to his head meeting the glass.
“My client denies ever becoming combative with the officers,” said Mark Petroff, Smith’s attorney in the lawsuit.
Smith was taken to Mercy Regional Medical Center in Lorain to have his stomach pumped for drugs the officers believed he had swallowed, according to the police report.
Petroff said the officers did not find any drugs on him, aside from Excedrin. The doctors didn’t pump Smith’s stomach because too much time had passed when he reached the hospital, but drugs were never reported to have been found in his system.
Watkins, the police captain, told CNN that Smith was taken to the hospital not only to have his stomach pumped but also to be treated for injuries after hitting the windshield.
In the police report, Thompson, the detective, said, “Smith was transported … due to him swallowing illegal narcotics.” There was no mention of a concern for his injuries in the report.
Smith was charged with obstructing official business, tampering with evidence and resisting arrest. No drug possession charges were filed then.
Smith is being held at the Community Based Correctional Facility in Ohio after he was arrested and charged with trafficking heroin in May, according to the Lorain Municipal Court criminal clerk’s office.