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Columbus mum on settlement in police shooting


Dispatch Staff Report



Details of a settlement agreement between the city of Columbus and the mother of a young man who was fatally shot by police in 2008 will remain confidential even when the paperwork is finalized, City Attorney Jeff Turnage said Thursday. 


A federal judge dismissed the suit Jan. 23 because the parties agreed to settle out of court. The settlement has not been finalized. 


Deborah Ray sued the city of Columbus, Columbus Mayor Robert Smith and officers Rick Jones and Joe Johnson, on behalf of her son, Justin Smith (no relation to Robert Smith). 


Ray filed the suit in 2009. 


According to court documents, Justin Smith skipped out on his bail in 2005, a year before Robert Smith became mayor, leaving the bonding company of Susie Summerville, Robert Smith's former employee, holding the bill. Robert Smith sold the bonding company to Summerville before 2005. 


A few days before the shooting, two women accused Justin Smith of committing burglaries in their neighborhood, which prompted an unfruitful search of his mother's house, according to a letter from former Police Chief Joseph St. John to Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney. 


According to the letter, Robert Smith was present for the search. The following morning, St. John verbally reprimanded officers for calling the mayor the scene. 


"It is the job of the Columbus Police Department to apprehend criminals and not the Mayor's Office," he wrote in the letter. "This protocol/procedure has been rectified." 


On Jan. 31, 2008, Johnson, who is assistant police chief, and officer Rick Jones responded to a report of a burglary in progress on the 700 block of 15th Street North and entered the residence of Justin Smith, the complaint states. 


Johnson reportedly fired the fatal shot, although both officers were placed on administrative leave. Local agencies routinely place officers on leave, pending an investigation, anytime they discharge their weapons. 


Though Ray was seeking at least $75,000 in U.S. District Court, the settlement amount is unknown. The parties agreed to keep the terms of the settlement confidential.




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