Wife Sues the Police Department for Cop Husband’s Death

A veteran officer and officer’s wife sues the Police Department for accidental death because her husband said she should do so if he were accidentally killed.

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting this accidental death as a genuine accident. The Free State Project puts the term “accidental” in quotation marks to raise the question of whether it wasn’t accidental at all. Really bad stuff can happen in police departments, like a good cop being kicked out and charged with trumped up crimes, put in a psych ward against one’s will without notifying family, or shooting dead a snitch who is supposed to be working with police.

The way that Sergeant Tom Smith got shot and killed does raise questions. According to the Chronicle,

On Jan. 21, 2014, BART police Officer Michael Maes mistook his supervisor for an armed suspect during the search of the small Dublin apartment, authorities said. The officers had failed to study the circular floor plan before the search, and suddenly encountered each other in a back room.

[…]

Smith and Maes were among a group of BART officers who went to the ground-floor, 723-square-foot apartment at the Park Sierra complex on Dougherty Road to conduct a probation search in hopes of recovering stolen property. The apartment belonged to 20-year-old John Henry Lee, a robbery suspect who was already in custody, having been arrested five days earlier after police said he led San Leandro officers on a chase to Oakland in a car stolen from a BART parking lot.

At the time I am writing, the Free Though Project’s post about the death claims that the cops were searching for John Henry Lee himself. Perhaps there was an older version of the story that mistakenly said they were searching for him, even though he had already been taken into custody, rather than for stolen property. That mistake makes the entire incident seem set up.

But I think that Smith’s wife, who is suing the police department, would say something if she thought her husband might intentionally be killed. Her issue with the department is that they did not give the police proper training.

Here’s more from the Chronicle,

BART police Sgt. Tom Smith, frustrated that his department had rejected his requests for more training or the use of its SWAT team during high-risk searches of homes, told his wife that if anything happened to him, she should “sue the s—” out of the agency, her attorneys said Monday.

Specifically, Smith told his wife — fellow BART Officer Kellie Smith — that she should file a lawsuit naming Deputy Police Chief Ben Fairow, whom he said had routinely denied his requests for more training and for tactical teams. Last year, the sergeant was shot and killed — accidentally, authorities said, by a fellow officer who suddenly encountered him as they searched a small Dublin apartment.

The lawsuit Kellie Smith filed on Friday came a day after she wrote a letter to the BART board of directors and Police Department managers, saying the litigation came only after her attempts to “confidentially address my concerns” failed. A veteran of the force for nearly 20 years, she said she wrote the letter “with deep regret and a heavy heart,” noting that she has “deep loyalty to BART PD and its officers.”

It is hard to imagine a twenty-year veteran turning against her own police department without reason. At this point it looks like Tom Smith has proven his point that the police need more training and better tactics when they have to do genuinely dangerous missions. We might say that what has happened in the Bay Area is the other extreme from what happened in the Atlanta area.

We need a system that provides both for innocent bystanders and also for the lives of the police.