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“THIS IS NOT MUCH DIFFERENT THAN THE SOVIET UNION”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Nov. 13, 2010) — Another victim of Monroe County Sheriff’s Department vigilantism recently contacted The Post & Email and related his story of physical abuse, extortion, and the fact that every day of his life is lived in fear that he or a loved one could be the next target. Following the incident, he was threatened that if he ever went to the media, they would “come over and do this every —– night.”
MRS. RONDEAU: What exactly what happened to you?
MR. SMITH: I was going down Highway 68 south, which would be going toward Tellico Plains, and it was late at night, about 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. I was driving an old antique car that I’d get out and ride around in; I’m a night-owl, you know. So I was goin’ down the road, and a police car was coming the opposite way from Tellico. I didn’t think anything about it and turned to the right; he turned in behind me, and he hit the blue light. So I thought, “OK, maybe I have a taillight out;” I didn’t think anything about it. So I pulled over, probably about a hundred yards off the main road…Next thing I know, my door is yanked open; they pulled me out of the car by my shirtsleeves with enough force that it tore the sleeves off of my T-shirt, slammed me on the ground, threw me in handcuffs, and then he went to beatin’ on me, callin’ me a hippie and all sorts of names.
MRS. RONDEAU: Was there any violation that you committed?
MR. SMITH: At the time, I didn’t know what I was charged with. What I didn’t know until I called my father to post bail was that I was charged with aggravated assault, resisting arrest, DUI, simple assault…there were, like, five charges on me, also felony fleeing to avoid arrest.
MRS. RONDEAU: Were you guilty of any of those?
MR. SMITH: No. They said that I had run about three miles…there’s no way, not in this car.
MRS. RONDEAU: Had you been drinking at all?
MR. SMITH: Well…I wasn’t convicted of that because there was no breathalizer. They never asked me for ID; they never asked me “What’s your name?” There wasn’t any of that; they just opened the door and threw me on the ground, it was that quick. I’ve watched enough cops to know that you don’t get out of the car until they come to you. On the “resisting arrest” part, they said that they hollered at me on the bullhorn and that I refused to get out. And aggravated assault, I don’t know…I guess I assaulted his fist with my face. That’s all I can figure.
They told my dad that my car had been seen doing donuts in people’s yards and just raising all kinds of Cain around the county, but anybody who knows me knows I baby that car. I don’t even like to get gravel on it. So maybe somebody was or somebody wasn’t, and they just grabbed the first person they saw with a car matching that description; I don’t know. I wasn’t doing anything like that; I was just kind-of making a loop and going back home.
I don’t understand why. They didn’t like my looks, I guess…and I’m quoting here, “G–d— dirty hippie,” and all this kind-of stuff, because my hair was kind-of shoulder-length at the time.
Before I got to the jail, they tasered me over and over, repeatedly, and I counted to get my mind off of it. I counted “one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi…” and there was one time I counted to 23-Mississippi sittin’ there being shocked. And they were laughin’…”What’s the matter, you’re not toilet-trained?” because I lost control of my bowels. When you have that much electricity runnin’ through you, there’s not much you can do. They were just laughin’ and goin’ on, havin’ a good old time…”Did ya eat tacos, man? Can’t control yourself?” I didn’t say anything…what could I say?
So they threw me in the back of the car and they put these cuffs on so tight that I could not feel my hands. I couldn’t feel my fingertips. As a matter of fact, I didn’t have feeling in my left hand for about three months. I play guitar, and that’s the only way I was able to get my feeling back into my hands. That was kind-of my therapy.
MRS. RONDEAU: Handcuffs are adjustable, aren’t they? They don’t have to be that tight?
MR. SMITH: Right. So I was beggin’ the guys, as nice as I could be, “Please, sir, could you pull over and loosen these handcuffs a little bit, please, please?” I heard him get on the radio and he called for another officer, and I heard ‘im say, “You got any pepper spray? I’ve already used all mine.” During the time they were beatin’ me, taserin’ me and all this, they were squirtin’ me in the face with that pepper spray, too. I was just gettin’ it from all around, and I had no idea why. I thought it was a routine traffic stop. I thought I’d get a ticket for a taillight out or something.
Then it just got worse from there. They squirted me in the face with that spray, shoved me back in the car, and he said, “Shut the f— up or you’ll be in the back.” So we got there, and I said, “Have y’all got a nurse or somethin’; I’m bleedin’. And they said, “Shut the f— up” and all this kind of stuff.
There is a videotape of me being booked. Matthew Rogers is in possession of it, but he wouldn’t let me have a copy. But he does have the tape. My mother and my stepfather have seen this tape, not just me.
I was standing in the booking room, and you can’t hear any audio. They ask you your height, date of birth, all that sort of thing, and they got to the part, “Do you have any recent head injuries?” and they start snickering. And I just calmly stood up and said, “Yeah, let me show you somethin’, and I started walkin’ to the desk, which was about…you can see on the tape…I’m just guessin’, but I was maybe 25 or 30 feet away from his desk. And here comes the officer, Sonny Smart, who arrested me, and you see him runnin’ from the bottom of the picture, and he was just runnin’ full-speed and he just cold-cocked me from the side. I never saw it comin’. I was in no position to threaten either one of them; there was no aggressive motion on my part; nothin’ like that.
MRS. RONDEAU: Was that a video of when you were being booked or of when you were first stopped?
MR. SMITH: No, this was when I was being booked inside the jail. The cameras in the patrol car “malfunctioned” that night, as luck would have it. That was their first story, and then it changed to “Well, we’re a poor county; we can’t afford cameras.” But funny thing, they can afford all those tasers.
If you read the local paper around here, everyone who gets stopped, it’s resistin’ arrest, hittin’ windows out of the car, gettin’ tasered, just like a script. There aren’t that many violent criminals around here.
MRS. RONDEAU: What’s the population of Monroe County?
MR. SMITH: I’d say around 40,000. Each township has about 5,000, give or take. And you hardly ever see ’em patrolling the county; they’re always in town, always pullin’ people over, right and left. The county is wide open. But the town, they’re on it.
MRS. RONDEAU: So they go where there are more people?
MR. SMITH: I guess so; I guess they figure that’s where if somethin’ is goin’ on, that’s where it’s gonna be.
When I went to court, I was offered several bills. The first bill was “lose your license, 48 hours in jail,” and I said “No.” And then it was “Well, you know, 48 hours in jail and keep your license.” “No.” And this was four or five times, and I was ready to go to trial, and I said, “No, they can’t do this.” And it finally came down to either I admitted to simple assault, resisting arrest, no jail time, no DUI, none of that, and that’s the end of it.”
MRS. RONDEAU: Why would they do this? Is it for money?
MR. SMITH: Oh, yeah. It’s a money thing.
MRS. RONDEAU: I’m hearing this kind of story a lot, and the people all say they didn’t do anything wrong. There must be limited space in the jail, so the only other reason I can think of is that they want the bond money.
MR. SMITH: Oh, yeah, bond money, and then you pay court costs, and then they put you on probation. But, I don’t know; I never saw a probation officer or anything. Not that I’m complainin’, but it didn’t seem like much of a probation to me. It was more like, “Pay us some money, boy, and you’ll stay out of jail.”
MRS. RONDEAU: Is that what you had to do?
MR. SMITH: Yeah, oh, yeah.
MRS. RONDEAU: How much did you have to pay to stay out?
MR. SMITH: Well, my court costs totaled up to be around $3,000.
MRS. RONDEAU: And you had to pay that?
MR. SMITH: Yeah. It was about the same as if it was a DUI. Either way, they were gettin’ their $3,000.
MRS. RONDEAU: Why does it seem as if people in the area can’t get an attorney to fight something like this and then file a civil suit for the injuries?
MR. SMITH: Well, my theory is I think they’re all in it together. They’ve got a racket goin’. They’re all in cahoots together. I had gone to four attorneys around here in the area, and they all turned it around on me. They said, “Well, maybe your civil rights were violated; maybe they wasn’t. Everybody around here has got a sad story; the jail’s full of innocent people,” and things like that. Matthew Rogers was the first one who actually believed me. He looked visibly upset, like, man, “This is nonsense.”
MRS. RONDEAU: So why didn’t he fight on your behalf and state that the officers assaulted his client and that his client didn’t do anything wrong? Why didn’t he file a multi-million-dollar lawsuit?
MR. SMITH: That’s a good question. He had to pay. I had ’em dead-handed. He kept tellin’ me, all I have to do is catch ’em in one lie. I said, “The way I see it, we’ve caught ’em in several lies.”
MRS. RONDEAU: There were no witnesses to the beating, so I suppose it would be hard to prove…
MR. SMITH: I can understand that. But he got in court, and he pretty-much said, “Well, these are sworn officers, and they’re sayin’ that you ran and blah, blah, blah…”
MRS. RONDEAU: That was your own attorney saying that? It sounds as if he wasn’t fighting for you but rather, just going along with them. Is that right?
MR. SMITH: Lookin’ back on it, yeah. In hindsight, that’s what it seems like to me. Now I’ll tell you, in full disclosure, when I hired him, he said, “You know, the prosecutor and I are buddies. We go way back; we went to law school together.” I said, “OK.” And he said, “So I can deal with him.” And I thought at that time, “Great. That’s how things get done in this county.”
MRS. RONDEAU: And it sounded as if he was being honest because he told you that he knew the prosecutor.
MR. SMITH: Right. That’s just the way it’s always been around here. It seems talking to someone who’s not from here, we have no frame of reference to compare it to. It’s always been that way around here. It’s all in who you know, and that’s just how it is: who you know and how much money you have, basically. If you don’t know anybody, that’s just your bad luck.
MRS. RONDEAU: Why do people stay there, then? Why don’t they move away?
MR. SMITH: Oh, a lot of ’em do. A lot of the people that I went to school with got outta here. They were forced to. Things happened, you know. That was always my intent in high school, and I got stuck here. Circumstances…I always wanted to get outta here. Part of me still does. But it’s beautiful here. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the country you’ll ever see…the mountains, the rivers, the nature…it’s paradise. I’ve traveled quite a bit around the country, and I’ve not seen anyplace that’s more beautiful than this, in my opinion. So that’s the strong attraction for me. This could be a resort; this could be like Aspen or somethin’ like that if they wanted it to be. They don’t want that; it would ruin their little racket they got goin’ on.
MRS. RONDEAU: What is the underlying thing they’re feeding with all the court costs and money that they’re essentially extorting out of people? What are they doing with it?
MR. SMITH: That’s a good question, because there are very few people who live here that you would actually call “rich.” “Rich” by our standards wouldn’t be anything to, say, New York or Los Angeles or somewhere like that. The people here are working-class people; most of us work in factories or stores, however we can get by. I know that there’s a lot of drugs that run through here. Highway 411 is a major artery that runs through here northeast from Athens, GA to Maryville here in Tennessee. A lot of dope comes through there. There are a couple of chop shops that got busted back in the ’80s.
Editor’s Note: The conclusion of my interview with Mr. Smith will be published shortly in which he reveals a deputy’s justification for the brutality routinely practiced against the citizens of Monroe County. More interviews involving death threats, financial ruin and even child abuse being carried out knowingly by the officials in the county are forthcoming. Most of these victims have stated that they are contacting The Post & Email at the urging of Walter Fitzpatrick, who has been held in the Monroe County detention facility since October 27, when he was assaulted and tasered in his home by four sheriff’s deputies.
Where are the liberal civil-rights advocates? Why are they not speaking out on the suffering and pain caused by the brutal Monroe County drug/racketeering/extortion/police brutality squad? Where are the civil rights groups? Why has the government gained such a stranglehold over the citizens there? Is this what liberals want? What if it happens to them? Who will come to their aid if the heavy hand of government is what they asked for?