'Crazed, trigger-happy cop' not the label for Smothers

November 23, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

Charles Smothers sat in the living room of his mother's home, some two days after a Baltimore City Police Department trial board recommended that he be fired for the April 1995 incident that has made him Baltimore's poster boy for domestic violence.

Sitting beside him -- clasping his hand -- was his wife, Linda. In April 1995, she was his girlfriend. Both admit they had been having a spat common to all lovers. But both insist no domestic violence took place that night. Witnesses at the trial board claim Smothers shot his gun at Michael Scott and Mrs. Smothers that night. The Smothers contend that Scott attacked Mr. Smothers without provocation, that the two men had to be separated by Mrs. Smothers and her mother, Margarita Ekegbu, and that Mr. Smothers' gun slipped from his waistband and accidentally went off when he picked it up.

Smothers, his wife said, never touched her that night and certainly wasn't aiming at her.

"Would I marry a man two months later who fired a gun at me?" she asked. "I'm not that stupid."

So here's the situation: A Baltimore City Police Department committed to weeding out spousal abusers within its ranks has recommended firing a man whose wife swears she was not the victim of domestic violence. Scott and a 15-year-old testified that Smothers pointed a gun at Scott, fired and hit a car. If Smothers is that poor a shot, why did city police give him his gun back in 1996?

Make no bones about it. The trial board hearing Tuesday wasn't about what happened in April 1995. It's about what happened in August 1997 near Lexington Market, when Smothers shot James Quarles, the knife-wielder who refused to disarm after repeated requests. After the shooting, some folks went on the warpath, screeching that Quarles shouldn't have been shot, that the horrible and dreadful wife-beater Smothers had no business being on the police force, that the April 1995 incident proved he was a loose cannon, a time bomb waiting to explode.

On Thursday, Smothers sat surrounded by family members, who bristled at that portrayal of a man who disarmed a shotgun-wielding suspect without drawing his gun, almost took a bullet to the face in disarming another, caught a fugitive the FBI and federal marshals had trouble finding and who stayed away from the hoodlum element when he was a student at Lake Clifton High School.

Charles "comes from a very stable background of working-class people," said his uncle Michael Smothers, "not a bunch of lunatics."

"He never gave me one day of trouble when he was in school," added Pamela Smothers, Charles' mother. "When he was at college on a football scholarship, he lived on $10 a week. He never complained and never asked me for money. I couldn't ask for a better son."

Some may charge that Smothers' family can hardly be objective in this matter. But relatives' anecdotes about Smothers are nonetheless revealing. The man who has come to symbolize all that is wrong about the Baltimore Police Department in terms of domestic violence and brutality was actually inspired to join the force after an incident of police harassment.

"When he was a teen-ager, he was stopped by the police," his mother recalled. "He was driving a white Cadillac that belonged to his girlfriend's mother. He dropped her off at school. Police saw this young black man driving a Cadillac and stopped him. They threw him on the car and ripped his coat."

Pamela Smothers vividly remembers Charles' reaction.

"They shouldn't treat people that way," her son told her. He made up his mind to join the Police Department and show that cops could treat young black men decently. His first year on the force, he told his mother he hoped he would never have to kill anyone. It's a cruel irony that there are still those who now insist that Charles Smothers represents all that is bad in the way city police treat young black men.

tTC "They didn't see him after [the Quarles shooting] and how it tore him up," Pamela Smothers said of the Charles Smothers-as-murderer horde. "They weren't here to see what he went through. I did."

Her son says he "broke down crying" after hearing from other officers that Quarles didn't make it after paramedics took him to Shock Trauma. Earlier in the discussion, he had expressed his frustration that the public really didn't understand how stressful a police officer's job is. For a man who's supposedly a "crazed, trigger-happy cop" -- his description of how the media have portrayed him -- Charles Smothers was being exceedingly generous.

He should have said civilians call on cops to do those jobs we don't have the guts to do ourselves.

Pub Date: 11/22/97

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