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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Seattle Police Officer Indicted On Multiple Charges In Sturgis Shooting

Originally posted on 08/28/08 at 08:58, updated 09/05/08 at 11:40, perjury charge against Detective Smith was dropped.

Multiple charges have been filed today against Seattle police officer and Iron Pigs Motorcycle Club member Detective Ron Smith upon the recommendation of a Meade County grand jury over the August 9th shooting incident where Detective Smith, who was off-duty in attendance at the Sturgis motorcycle rally, had shot a Hells Angels Motorcycle Club member twice inside of a crowded Sturgis bar.

At the recommendation of the grand jury, the officer has been charged with multiple counts including perjury, aggravated assault, and carrying concealed pistol without a permit or abiding by a permit of a reciprocal state. The grand jury had heard 7 hours of testimony on the Sunday following the incident and considered further evidence and testimony on Wednesday, August 27. Smith could face up to 15 years in prison for the aggravated assault charge and five years for the perjury charge. Both are felonies. The two alternative charges he faces are misdemeanors.

While recent changes to the Seattle Police Department's disciplinary system makes committing perjury as part of an officer's official duty in the course of an internal investigation an offense that requires immediate termination, it is unclear if committing perjury while off-duty would apply. All officers involved in the incident have been put on administrative leave for the course of SPD's own internal investigation into the shooting incident.

(NOTE: The perjury charge against Detective Smith has since been dropped by state's attorney Sondreal who has also alleged that his investigation found that the Hell's Angels instigated the fight which resulted in the shooting.)

Also, while the department does have a policy of firing officers accused of felony offenses, the city was recently forced to rehire an officer who was charged with a felony but plead guilty to a misdemeanor instead, indicating that Smith and other officers will likely remain on paid administrative leave during the course of the investigation at least, which can last up to 180 days or more.

In addition to Smith, the four other Iron Pig MC members who were with Smith may also face charges of carrying a concealed pistol or an alternative charge of failure to abide by a permit of a reciprocal state. Also, it appears as though the person who was shot will also face charges of assault as well. The other Iron Pig MC members who were with Smith in Sturgis who face charges of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit include: Scott Lazalde of Bellingham, James Rector of Ferndale, Erik Pingel, of Aurora, Colorado, and Dennis McCoy of Seattle.

Two of the Iron Pigs MC members who were charged are SPD officers; Ron Smith and Dennis McCoy. Also, two other Iron Pigs members who were charged are US Customs Agents; Scott Lazalde and James Rector. There was no word yet as to Erik Pingel's occupation or relation to the Iron Pigs MC, which is reportedly comprised of only police officers and firefighters.

Sturgis state attorney Sondreal said in an e-mail this morning that the grand jury found that Smith lied while testifying before them the day after the shooting. Sondreal's press release issued the following statement:

"The grand jury must've decided that Mr. Smith, having taken an oath to testify truly, in a state proceeding, stated intentionally and contrary to the oath, a material matter which he knew to be false."
At this point there has been no comment from officer Smith, who claims to have shot in self defense, but the Seattle Police Officer's Guild, who previously insisted that the officer would be exonerated by video evidence taken from the Sturgis bar, has issued the following statement.
"The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) has been made aware of the findings of the Meade County Grand Jury surrounding the events which occurred in Sturgis South Dakota on August 9th of this year. We are certain that once all the facts are known, the involved SPOG members will be vindicated and absolved of any wrong-doing. Until that occurs, we are heartened by the news that Detective Ron Smith is recovering from his serious injuries and that no other parties were injured except for Detective Smith and his alleged assailant.

We would also encourage members of the community to remember that mere charges do not imply guilt and that the involved officers are innocent until proven guilty.

For more information contact SPOG at 206-767-1150"
Smith, in addition to being a member of the Iron Pigs motorcycle group and a Seattle police detective, is also on the board of directors for the Seattle Police Officer's Guild and editor of it's monthly newsletter "The Guardian". Online editions of that newsletter were quickly pulled offline after the incident. Smith and other SPD officers who were with him have been put on administrative leave pending an internal investigation into the incident.

While there have been no reported incidents of misconduct that involve SPD officer Sgt. Dennis McCoy, Detective Ron Smith reportedly has a history of disciplinary actions against him, including one 2005 incident at a Seattle Seahawks game where he allegedly taunted Seahawks fans which instigated a fight while he was working as security and another 2005 incident where he allegedly threatened to shoot a bar manager in Tacoma Washington while off-duty after the bar manager asked him to leave. Investigations into both matters found the officer guilty of misconduct, but the disciplinary actions merely resulted in a 2 day suspension for the first incident and a written reprimand for the threats he made in the Tacoma area bar.

Details about another alleged misconduct case against officer Smith, also in 2005, indicates that the officer may have had run-ins with the Hell's Angels previously when he apparently pressed charges against a Hell's Angels club member for making threats over the phone. However, it appears that the call was recorded and when played back to prosecutors the charges were dismissed and a subsequent internal investigation referred Smith for Supervisory Intervention as he appeared to be the person making threats during the conversation instead by telling the club member that Smith was a part of "the biggest gang of all" and that he should "watch his back".

No word yet on any trial dates or if the video taken from the Sturgis bar which was shown to the grand jury would be made public.

Sources:
The Rapid City Journal
The Seattle Times
The Stranger
The Seattle Post Intelligencer

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Paid administrative leave? This isn't giving birth or jury duty, it's being a hired criminal!

Packratt said...

Well, to be truthful, nobody really expects this to go anywhere. At most, a deal will be struck where officer Smith can plead down to misdemeanor offenses which would allow him to keep his job...

More likely, given how state's attorney Sondreal's statements had softened towards the charges against officer Smith within 24 hours of his first statement, is that the charges will be dropped or not prosecuted and the internal investigation the SPD launched will come up empty-handed as usual and the press will issue the press releases exonerating the officer without question or commentary.

Thanks for the comment!

 
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