EXCLUSIVE | Inside the jury room: Juror from Smith vs. Kremmling trial talks with Sky-Hi News
What kind of personal animosity did Sgt. Willson have with Kremmling resident Robert Mark Smith? What really happened with the Taser, and why was it necessary at all? Could all of this have been avoided if someone recognized the “bad blood” between Smith and the police department?
These are some of the questions the jury asked amongst themselves as they nestled for hours in a cramped jury room, debating the fate of Robert Mark Smith and the three Kremmling Police Officers who were responsible for his arrest on the night in question.
On Wednesday, 12 jurors decided that both Spade and Willson were liable for the use of excessive force, and Smith was awarded almost $800,000 in damages.
One juror described what the deciding factors were in the case. Sky-Hi News has agreed not to use the juror’s name.
The first point the jury was tasked with deciding was whether or not the incident with police was meant as retaliatory action against Smith for letters of protest he sent the town years earlier, effectively violating Smith’s First Amendment right to protest.
He said that the jury decided that there was no collusion to crush Smith’s First Amendment right, and no “grand conspiracy” to punish him for his protest.
The second order of business was deciding if Dillon, Spade and Willson used or created a situation that would inevitably lead to the use of violence.
The juror said that throughout the discussion on Dillon they wanted to make sure they considered the scope of the entire situation. He said Dillon didn’t ask to receive a 911 call about domestic violence that night, and that his history of successfully arresting Smith without incident gave him a precedent to approach the door himself.
He said that the jury was hesitant to punish Dillon in the case because he was engaged in “important police work” and that they didn’t want to dissuade law enforcement from checking in on potential domestic violence cases.
The jury found that Willson’s actions that night were inappropriate, and that Willson should have taken on different responsibilities that night given his contentious background with Smith. He said the jury had trouble rationalizing Willson’s use of a Taser immediately upon entry, noting that a successful Taser stun could be potentially deadly given the age of Smith and his history of medical issues.
The use of the Taser was one of the most contested issues during the trial, with numerous testimonies giving somewhat conflicting perspectives on its use.
The jury also decided that Spade was liable, despite not being present on the night in question. Spade was at home that night with a medical condition, but was aware of the situation and consented to Dillon’s plans to confront Smith.
The juror said that because Spade is the chief of the department, it was his responsibility to recognize the personal history between Smith and his officers, and to help create a plan that wouldn’t escalate to violence. “At that point it’s a leader’s job to say there’s too much bad blood here,” the juror said. “Ultimately he oversees it all, and we have to hold him liable.”
The juror said that throughout the trial he felt that some of the defense’s testimony actually hurt their case, citing discrepancies in Willson’s testimony with a deposition he gave in 2016. He also pointed to Dr. Stephen Moe’s expert testimony, which he said was “eviscerated by the prosecution.” Moe was a psychiatrist who evaluated Smith on behalf of the defense.
The juror emphasized that the entire jury felt that the members of the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and Colorado State Trooper Nathan Lyons acted with professionalism, and were in no way at fault during the incident.
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