Article Comment 

City sued for 2008 killing of 21-year-old Columbus man


Ryan Poe



A lawsuit implicating the mayor in a deadly 2008 police shooting is just one of several high-profile cases pending in federal court against local governments. 


The complaint, filed in 2009 by Deborah Ray, stems from the death of her 21-year-old son, Justin Smith, at the hands of two Columbus police officers Jan. 31, 2008. 


Her son had skipped out on his bail in 2005, a year before Robert Smith became mayor, leaving the bail bonding company of Susie Summerville, Smith''s former employee, holding the bill.  


Smith declined to comment on the ongoing lawsuit except to say he had sold the company to Summerville before 2005 and had no knowledge of the bond issue prior to the shooting. 


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


Seven officers went to her house without a search warrant and asked to search for her son, the complaint says. 


Ray was "very uncooperative" and did not permit the search, leading Lt. Carl Kemp, then commander of criminal investigations, to call the mayor and former city council member for help, St. John said in his letter. 


Once at the house, Smith "demanded entry" to search for her son and was refused, according to the complaint.  


Smith then allegedly told her "he would not be responsible for what happened to her if she did not allow the police officers to search her home," the complaint continues. 


Ray allowed the unfruitful search because she feared for her and her children''s safety, the document adds. 


The following morning, St. John verbally reprimanded Kemp for calling the mayor to the scene, which he called "totally improper." 


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


St. John declined to comment on the lawsuit except to say that his letter was accurate and that the officers involved did not have "sinister" motives. 


On Jan. 31, 2009, Assistant Chief Joe Johnson and officer Rick Jones responded to a report of a burglary in progress on the 700 block of 15h 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. 


"At no time during the killing did defendants have a justifiable reason to use the deadly force employed," the document says. 


Ray also states in the complaint that the city failed to properly train its officers. 


Johnson declined to comment on pending litigation and Jones could not be reached. 


Ray is seeking at least $75,000 from the city, the mayor, Johnson and Jones for violating her son''s constitutional rights, according to the complaint. 


The case is currently set for trial before U.S. District Judge Sharon Aycock at 9:40 a.m. April 25, 2011 in the federal courthouse at Aberdeen. 


See Monday''s edition of The Dispatch for a rundown of other lawsuits pending against local governments. 





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Reader Comments

Article Comment insanity commented at 10/10/2010 9:54:00 AM:

Ryan never gets a story completely right. Rick Jones is not retired. Not that it's a key part of the story, but it makes you wonder if you can ever really believe anything the Dispatch prints.


Article Comment raider commented at 10/11/2010 1:42:00 PM:

Exactly what happened to bring this story to the front page. The lawsuit was filed over a year ago and will not be heard in court for another 6 months. The sensational headline implies that this was a new lawsuit that that was filed in the last few days. The story is old and doesn't even contain any updated information. Could the Editor please tell us what is different between this story and the original story when the lawsuit was filed? Is the headline really the appropriate headline for this story or just a stab at sensationalism and intended to be a hit piece against the mayor?


Article Comment xteecher commented at 10/11/2010 5:11:00 PM:

I find it unbelievable that the mayor would not know about the bond, since Ms Summerville was and is his girlfriend-according to many folks in this town. I am sure it was table conversation, as most money matters are......


Article Comment jeff turnage commented at 10/11/2010 6:33:00 PM:

Against my better judgment, I am writing to comment. Here are the true facts. The owner of a house found that someone broke in. He called 911 and reported the breakin, and reported that the burglar was still inside. Officers Johnson and Jones responded. They entered. The burglar was in fact inside. When Officer Jones told him to "Freeze!", the suspect ran to the front of the house. Officer Jones caught up with him at the front door. The suspect spun loose and ran toward Officer Johnson. Johnson's gun accidentally discharged, and the bullet struck the fleeing felon. The suspect ran from the house and collapsed in the yard. Officer Jones tried heroically to save the suspect's life by giving mouth to mouth to the suspect, with the assistance of Randy Karg, blood and all, until the paramedics arrived. Jones is not retired. The suspect was a burglar, not a resident of the house. Mayor Smith had nothing to do with the bond or the shooting. Neither Officer Johnson nor Jones knew who the burglar was, until well after the suspect was shot. Even the homeowner who called 911 didn't know who was within his house. This is a sad case. Nobody wanted the young man to be killed. Negative articles are bad, but negative articles with false information are really bad.


Article Comment kj commented at 10/12/2010 3:04:00 AM:

"The suspect was a burglar, not a resident of the house." No place in the article did it say that. You can't make up stuff about an article and then complain about the article contains false information.

There's a reason people don't trust law enforcement and the justice system: law enforcement and the justice system work every possible angle to put someone in jail. We've seen it in cases by Forrest Allgood where phony experts testify about teeth marks and ridiculous gun theories, where two people fired the gun at the same time. We've seen it where people are held past the 72 hours habeas corpus allows. We've seen children prosecuted as adults when they can't sign a contract or consent to sex or consume alcohol or even get a driver's license. And we've seen it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over where police and judges continually try to game the system when they could instead just do good police work and good lawyer work, even if doing so means a few guilty folks go free. We've seen guilty people walk without trial on charges of breaking and entering and vandalizing a school when they were caught on tape and seen how other folks, guilty of the same are convicted.

As a supposedly free society, we RELY on police and the justice system to err in favor of innocence. Instead we get a continual stream of stories about police and the justice system making mistakes on the wrong side of caution. Instead, we get a continual stream of stories of privileged people getting off scott free. We, all of us, deserve better. We deserve a fair system, and we don't get it.

When we don't get it, it is absolutely ridiculous to be offended when we assume less than the best of those we entrust to deliver it.


Article Comment kj commented at 10/12/2010 3:07:00 AM:

I meant to say:

You can't make up stuff about an article and then complain [that] the article contains false information.


Article Comment jeff turnage commented at 10/12/2010 7:02:00 AM:

Read it again KJ. "On Jan. 31, 2009, Assistant Chief Joe Johnson and officer Rick Jones responded to a report of a burglary in progress on the 700 block of 15h Street North and entered the residence of Justin Smith, the complaint states." It was not the "residence" of Justin Smith. That's just flat wrong. Smith broke and entered.


Article Comment melody commented at 10/12/2010 3:51:00 PM:

kj seems to have it in for the DA and police force. Wonder what she will do when a burglar breaks into her home? Probably blast him away with a 12 guage or something before calling 911. Probably what I'd do too. Shoot first and save questions till later. It's called self defense, justifiable. The buglar knows of the risk before he or she decides to break into a home so they don't have a leg to stand on in any circumstances.


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