Deputy Smith guilty on two counts of police brutality
TERRE HAUTE -- A former Putnam County Sheriff's Department Deputy of the Year was convicted Friday on two counts of using excessive force -- aka police brutality -- as a five-day federal court trial came to an end in U.S. District Court at Terre Haute.
Terry Joe (T.J.) Smith, 37, Greencastle, a four-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department who was named Deputy of the Year in 2011, his first year with the department, was convicted by an exhausted-looking jury that needed two days, two sets of deliberation and a change in jurors to forge its verdict.
He was convicted of a Sept. 7, 2012 incident on West Stardust Road in Cloverdale punctuated by a punch to the face of Cletus Warren and a June 26, 2013 incident at Lazy Acres trailer park in which Jeffrey Land was thrown to the ground by Smith as the deputy was putting him in the back of a squad car.
Meanwhile, the jury reached not-guilty verdicts in the other two alleged excessive force cases against Smith -- a Nov. 6, 2011 incident outside Moore's Bar in Greencastle in which Smith was alleged to have indiscriminately used a taser on an intoxicated Anthony Dodson, and a Dec. 28, 2013 incident at the Cloverdale Truck Stop in which Smith allegedly forced an intoxicated Amber Stwalley to the ground, face first into lava rocks.
Smith is being allowed to remain free of federal custody, awaiting his sentencing.
Judge William T. Lawrence told Smith he may remain out on "previously imposed conditions," which have included the absence of any firearms on his person and in the Smith home.
Post-trial motions in the case are due within 14 days, the judge said, with sentencing dependent on the issuing of a presentence investigation, which normally takes 70 days, federal prosecutor Bradley Blackington said. Typically, he added, sentencing will come 70-90 days following a conviction in a federal case.
Although initial information via the U.S. District Attorney's Office indicated Smith could get up to 10 years for each count, Blackington told the Banner Graphic he expects Smith to get a 24- to 30-month sentence for each conviction. The sentences would likely run concurrently, the prosecutor said in a press conference on the sidewalk of the federal courthouse following the jury's decision.
"I'm sure Mr. Smith will appeal," defense attorney John L. Tompkins of Indianapolis said in the courtroom following the verdict, "but I have not spoken to Mr. Smith about it."
Fully expecting an appeal, federal prosecutor Blackington said, "we'll deal with that when it comes."
Until then, Tompkins continued, he and Smith will "work hard toward sentencing, hoping to minimize the impact on Terry and his family."
Asked if Smith would be making a comment on the outcome, Tompkins said he had advised against it.
"I've talked to the family," the defense attorney added, "and advised them against it. It's an extremely emotional time for them and not a good time to make a comment."
About a dozen members of Smith's family were in the courtroom when the verdict was read, beginning with a not-guilty decision in the Moore's Bar case but followed in order by a guilty verdict in the Cletus Warren incident that brought a noticeable gasp from the defendants' gallery.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors said they weren't surprised at the outcome.
"You have to put it in perspective of the jury," Blackington said, noting that with four cases before them, the jurors had "difficult, really difficult decisions" to make.
The jurors asked some really good questions, the prosecutor noted, such as "what are the legal standards for using a taser and for punching someone in the face."
"There aren't clear answers" to questions like that, he added, explaining that deliberations "required jurors to step into the shoes of a reasonable police officer in applying such standards. Those jurors had a real challenge, Blackington stressed.
"Twelve people trying to look at the evidence can really present a lot of different viewpoints," he said.
Smith, who with a felony now on his record will lose both his position as law enforcement officer and his seat on the Greencastle City Council, has been on administrative leave since his March arrest by FBI agents.
Pending a reversal on appeal, Smith will never again wear a badge or carry a gun.
The felony conviction, Blackington said, in effect ends Smith's law enforcement career, "and his seat on the Greencastle Common Council."
"Once he gets convicted that's it, he's a convicted felon right now."
Up until missing a meeting last Tuesday night, the second day of his trial, Smith had continued to attend Greencastle City Council sessions. Elected as a Republican, he had been serving as Fourth Ward councilman on the five-member city governing body.
The split verdict in the four counts came just before 3 p.m. Friday, two hours after a juror was dismissed and replaced by an alternate following 13 prior hours of deliberation over Thursday afternoon and evening and Friday morning.