Friday, February 27, 2009
Meanwhile, a witness called police to report seeing a man in the median of a nearby street with a cash register so officers investigated and claimed that they spotted a "trail" of pennies leading to a nearby apartment. The cash register matched the type from the Magnolia Barbershop.
Officers discovered the apartment belonged to a Jay W. Smith who was a Florida A&M University student. Four days after the burglary officers visited Smith and asked for permission to search his apartment. When Smith declined they took his drivers license and refused to let him leave while officers attempted to get a warrant.
However, while attempting to get the warrant, officers received a call that the other register was found and they let Smith go and returned his license after making a copy of it for a photo lineup.
Officers contacted the witnesses who claimed they saw a black man, in his late teens to early twenties, with a cash register that night and had them look at the photo lineup. One picked out Smith and the other couldn't pick anyone out of the lineup.
On March 3rd of 2005 Smith was arrested and held in Leon County Jail in lieu of a $2,500 bond which would never be returned to Smith.
He was charged based on a sworn affidavit by an officer named Rodney Fountain, who claimed that Smith stole one cash register with at least $100 in change in it, that there was a trail of pennies leading to his door, and that at least one witness observed him with the cash register and picked him out of a photo lineup.
Seems like an open and shut case based on solid investigative police work, right?
Yeah, probably isn't if you're reading about it here.
Apparently, a few problems with the case became apparent after Smith's attorney did some investigating and found that:
The "trail" of pennies actually wasn't a trail, it consisted of only five pennies that were near Smith's door and in the nearby parking lot. Both of which weren't really near the location where the cash register was actually found, there was no trail.
Oh, and about that cash register... the owner of that cash register told police that night that she cleaned it out before leaving. There was no money, let alone any change, in that cash register that night. Quite the opposite of the $100 in change the officer claimed was in it.
About that witness identification? It appears as though the officers involved neglected to mention that those witnesses both claimed that they couldn't get a look at the person with the cash register because he was wearing a hoodie.
In fact, to make it worse, it appears as though the one witness who did pick Smith's photo had expressly explained to the officer that he didn't see the man's face and could not pick anyone out. But that officer, the same Rodney Fountain, wouldn't accept no for an answer and told the witness to "just pick one", so the witness felt pressured and did what he was told and picked Smith's photo randomly out of the six that were presented to him.
Now, according to a complaint filed on February 9th (pdf) in the US District Court of Florida by the Law Office of James Cook, the City of Tallahassee and several of its police officers are being sued for deprivation of rights, malicious prosecution, fabrication of evidence, false imprisonment, and a slew of other charges over Smith's arrest.
What might have seemed like good detective work was actually a case of evidence fabrication and testilying, a term used to describe when officers lie in court testimony and sworn statements.
Do you think a case like this is rare?
No, Smith was lucky enough to have a defense attorney, Matt Willard, that took the time to look over the evidence and who spotted the anomalies that made him look deeper. If he had an overworked attorney who urged him to take a plea, we wouldn't have ever heard about this case... just like all the others you never hear about.
So now there will be another robbery, the citizens of Tallahassee will be robbed by the officers who lied in order to arrest someone who was innocent. They won't pay if they lose that lawsuit, the city's taxpayers will... so, what incentive did they have NOT to lie?
None, and ultimately, that's why they did.
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