A Lorain, Ohio man has filed a civil suit against his local police department over what he says was an excessively violent arrest in September 2014.
Now a local news outlet has obtained police dash cam footage showing officers violently slamming his head into the front windshield of a police vehicle, with enough force to crack the glass.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s sad. It’s frightening that an individual while in handcuffs has something like that happen to them,” Mark Petroff, the man’s lawyer, told WKYC News in Ohio.
The arrest occurred on Sept. 4, 2014 when police say Pele Smith, 34, was seen jaywalking on East 34th Street in Lorain.
According to a statement from Lorain police, officers Timothy Thompson and Michael Gidich were in an undercover police cruiser, investigating complaints of drug activity in the area, when they spotted Pele Smith jaywalking. Police say Smith was known to officers due to his prior arrests on drug charges.
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The officers say Smith became agitated and aggressive when they called him over to their car. Instead of placing his hands on the hood of the vehicle, officers allege Smith put his hands through the side window.
“Not wanting Smith’s arms inside of my vehicle, I grabbed him by his right arm and attempted to escort him away,” Thompson wrote in his initial police report, obtained by The Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria, Ohio. “As I did this Smith tensed up and began to complain about the stop.”
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At this point the officers and Smith had a physical altercation, with police alleging they saw Smith attempting to swallow something. A short time later, officers Zachary Ferenec and Miguel Salgado arrived on the scene to assist the other two officers with the arrest.
The dashboard camera in one of the responding cruisers captures the remainder of the confrontation. Obtained under a Freedom of Information request by WKYC News, the video shows officers escorting Smith, who is now in handcuffs, away from the undercover vehicle and towards one of the responding cruisers.
Suddenly, Smith is violently thrown to the hood of the car, his head hitting the front windshield of the cruiser with enough force to crack the glass.
“Upon reaching the cruiser Smith made an abrupt push against me increasing his resistance,” Ferenec wrote in his report. “I pushed forward to counter his quick forceful pressure. This caused the two of us to fall forward onto the cruiser. Smith’s chin struck the windshield of the cruiser causing the glass to crack.”
But that explanation isn’t enough for some lawmakers.
“He didn’t pull, he didn’t yank, he didn’t tug,” said Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator who now serves on a governor’s panel setting excessive force standards for police departments statewide. “He didn’t kick, he didn’t spit. He didn’t do anything to deserve that.”
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Following his arrest, Smith was transported to Mercy Regional Medical Center to treat the injuries to his face. Despite the claims in the police report, officers were not able to find any evidence Smith had swallowed anything during the arrest, although police say the length of time needed to obtain a warrant to pump Smith’s stomach meant anything ingested may have been digested.
According to Ohio state inmate records, Smith was taken to the Lorain County Jail and charged with tampering with evidence, obstructing official business and resisting arrest. He later pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors and received probation.
Smith is currently pursuing a civil case against the department, the city of Lorain, and the officers involved in his arrest, and is seeking unspecified damages.
In a statement to media, Lorain police chief Cel Rivera cautions that the video, while disturbing, doesn’t paint the whole picture.
“I would caution observers to not rush to judgment relative to the actions of the police on scene,” Chief Rivera said. “Although it is not easy to watch, police officers explain all of their actions in their police reports.”