Grand County deputies, Kremmling chief testify in excessive force trial
DENVER — Members of the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and Kremmling Police Chief Scott Spade testified Thursday in the civil trial of Robert Mark Smith vs. Kremmling, marking the trial’s fourth day before a jury. The court also heard from the woman who asked police to check on her friend the day of Smith’s altercation with law enforcement officers.
Smith alleges that members of the Kremmling Police Department, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and a Colorado State Trooper illegally entered his house in Kremmling, and used excessive force while arresting him on March 5, 2013. Police were responding to a welfare check on a woman staying with Smith, and suspected that domestic violence may be involved.
Smith was charged with domestic violence, obstruction, resisting arrest and attempted assault on an officer. No officers were injured, and all charges against Smith were dismissed by the district attorney. Smith maintains he never resisted, and that police instigated the violence.
The woman was found asleep with a blood alcohol content of .40, and was taken to Middle Park Medical Center – Kremmling. Several people testified to seeing bruises on the woman’s arm, but no photos were taken and the point is contested.
Sky-Hi News decided not to publish the name of the woman because she is an alleged victim of domestic violence.
Smith filed a lawsuit against Spade, Sgt. Todd Willson, Officer Robert Dillon and the town of Kremmling in 2015.
Willson began the day on the stand, completing his third day of testimony at the Byron White U.S. Courthouse in Denver. Willson finished his recounting of the night in question.
READ MORE: Alleged abuse victim testifies
Willson said that after the incident he went to the hospital to observe a medical evaluation of the woman, and noted that she was uncooperative with emergency room personnel. He also said that he saw bruising on her arm consistent with grabbing, and that she was crying out in pain. No photos of bruising on the woman were entered into evidence.
Willson said he saw her the next day at the Kremmling Police Department. He testified that she refused to give a statement on the night before, saying Smith would kill her if she did.
The woman who requested a welfare check on the woman staying with Smith also testified. She said that she knew her friend was dating Smith, and had met him on occasion.
On March 5, the woman received a panicked and drunken call from the woman staying with Smith. She told her that Smith threw her down the stairs, and said her arm “hurts so bad I think it’s broken.” She also complained about head pain and scrapes on her legs.
READ MORE: Doctors testify to Smith’s injuries
She said the woman staying with Smith wanted to call the police, but that she didn’t have his address. The last thing she told her was “he’s coming back,” and hung up the phone. She said she unsuccessfully tried to call her friend back several times before contacting the Grand County Dispatch.
She told the dispatch that her friend was staying with a tall man named Mark, and that he owned a mobile home park in Kremmling. She also said that her friend was a victim of domestic violence.
She said Officer Dillon returned her call and she told him everything she could about the man. Dillon correctly determined that the woman was staying with Smith.
Dillon called for backup and was met by Dan Mayer, Mike Reed and Zachary Luchs of the Grand County Sheriff’s Office; Colorado State Trooper Nathan Lyons and Officer Willson. The officers met at a carwash close to Smith’s residence. Chief Spade was not present that night, but was aware of the incident and gave his approval of Dillon’s plan.
Luchs and Reed are no longer with the Sheriff’s Department. Luchs was fired for failure to properly investigate a subsequent case of domestic violence, though he claims he was fired for political reasons.
As first responding officer, Dillon was in charge of the case. He informed the other officers that Smith was not friendly to law enforcement officers, had guns inside the house and had a history of confrontation with the Kremmling Police Department.
READ MORE: Man sues town of Kremmling
Smith allegedly made threats against both Spade and Willson during a previous arrest in 2008.
Mayer and former Grand County Deputies Luchs and Reed all provided their testimony on the night.
As Dillon approached to knock on Smith’s door Mayer and Luchs were hidden, but in sight of the doorway. Reed went around to the back of the house.
Mayer said during the initial verbal confrontation between Smith and Dillon, Smith tried to close the door on Dilon and a pushing match broke out. He said that Smith also tried to punch Dillon, but that Dillon blocked the blow. The conflict escalated as the two moved inside.
Willson followed them inside, and tried to Taser Smith. Willson said the Taser didn’t properly discharge or hit Smith, while Smith claims he was tasered three times.
Mayer said that he heard an “arcing” sound emanating from the Taser from outside, signifying the firing of electricity. Mayer said that the sound is typically louder when it isn’t contacting its target, because it’s not being muffled.
He also said that when a Taser fires aphids are also ejected from the cartridge. Aphids are confetti like pieces of paper that help trace where a specific weapon was used. Mayer said he didn’t see any aphids on the flood, but that it’s also possible to hear arcing from dry-stunning, which doesn’t require a cartridge.
Mayer said he has been training with Tasers for 16 years, and that he also instructs other officers on their use.
Smith testified that he was shot twice by a Taser, and dry-stunned once, though nobody else present that night said they saw Willson taser Smith. Willson also denies tasering Smith, and no photos of Taser wounds were entered into evidence.
Luchs entered the house after Willson, and said Smith was still punching Dillon inside.
Luchs said he performed a “common peroneal knee strike” on Smith, afterwhich Smith collapsed onto the ground. Luchs restrained his head and torso. Mayer then entered the house and restrained Smith’s lower body. Willson handcuffed Smith and left the room, according to multiple officers.
Deputy Reed entered the house after Smith was already sitting up. All three members of the Sheriff’s Office said Smith was cordial and “seemed happy to see us” after they identified themselves, but noted that he retained his distaste for the Kremmling officers.
Smith claims that two weapons were pointed at him during the confrontation, a pistol and rifle. Reed was the only officer with a rifle that night. He said he had an AR-15 slung around his chest, but never pointed it at Smith. The other officers also denied that they pointed a weapon at Smith, or saw anyone else do so.
Reed took Smith to jail in Hot Sulphur Springs after the incident. He said smith talked to him the whole way, and was cordial. He noted that Smith complained of shoulder pain, and that he moved his handcuffed from his back to his front. He said Smith didn’t mention any other injuries.
Lt. Kendra Gore of the Grand County Sheriff’s Office also testified. She said she admitted Smith to jail, and that Smith never requested medical attention. She noted that Smith filled out a medical questionnaire, but that he did not see anything concerning.
Chief Spade said after the event Dillon called and told him that he had found the woman, and that domestic abuse was involved.
Later he said that he made a non-consensual HIPAA request to Middle Park Medical Center – Kremmling for the case, and that he reviewed the reports from both the Kremmling and Grand County officers. He said that he was satisfied and confident in the work they did, and that he didn’t know Smith was contesting the reports until later.
A friend of Smith’s also testified at the hearing, calling Smith honest, trustworthy, gentle and nonviolent. He also said that Smith hasn’t been the same since the incident.
The trial will continue tomorrow, and a verdict is expected on Tuesday.
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The Grand County Sheriff’s Office fielded 185 calls from April 11-17 while dispatchers answered 391 calls for all first-responder agencies in the county.