Smothers is scapegoat in domestic violence

December 10, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

Ex-Baltimore City police Officer Charles M. Smothers was born Feb. 2, 1968, according to his probation records. That would make him an Aquarius, for the astrologically inclined among you.

Last week, Commissioner Thomas Frazier made Smothers Capricorn. As in the sign of the goat. As in scapegoat.

Frazier bestowed the Royal Order of the Boot on Smothers on Friday, firing him for an April 1995 domestic violence case in which his wife insists she was not a victim. No matter. We live in an America where reality is reinterpreted at a whim. Smothers was charged in the incident with firing a shot at his then-girlfriend-now-wife and another man. He missed and hit a car.

See how easily reality is reinterpreted? Here is a guy - Smothers, who no one denies is a crack shot - accused of shooting at two people and firing only one shot. How exactly, did he propose to hit both with one shot? In 1990s America, the answer doesn't matter. We're on a hunt for domestic violence offenders, and we'll take them where we can get them.

Several of the bona fide domestic violence offenders are on our police forces. Cop honchos know it, citing domestic violence as the second leading cause of police deaths. The problem with domestic violence on the police force didn't come to light in April 1995, when Smothers was charged with shooting at his wife. It came to light in August 1997, when Smothers shot a knife-wielding James Quarles outside Lexington Market.

Someone videotaped the shooting. Channel 11 ran it, what seemed like a couple of hundred times. After seeing the video, every Marylander within viewing range of Channel 11 suddenly became an expert on police use of deadly force. Someone in the media found out about the 1995 shooting incident. Then the grits really hit the fan.

Why was this man convicted in a domestic violence case out on the streets in the first place? Didn't the 1995 incident show he was out of control?

The answer is simple: Smothers wasn't convicted in the 1995 incident. He was given probation before judgment. Whatever else probation before judgment is, it is not a conviction.

"They knew I had the probation before judgment," Smothers said of city police yesterday. "They knew I wasn't convicted of anything. That's why they put me back on the street." A look at Smothers' order of probation confirms his statement. He was charged with three counts of battery. But the space beside the phrase "convicted of" is blank.

After the Quarles shooting and the subsequent ranting of the rabble about Smothers as a psychotic wife abuser, the cat was out of the bag. Soon Frazier announced he would weed out those convicted of domestic violence from the police force. That Smothers was never convicted of such was merely academic. A police trial board would finish the job the courts couldn't do.

The board met last month and took the word of Michael Scott - the man Smothers was charged with shooting at - and a teen-age girl over that of Smothers, his wife and mother-in-law. The board overlooked the probation record that showed Smothers was ordered to pay $100 restitution to Scott but not to the other supposed victim: Linda Smothers.

Also overlooked was that Smothers had attended counseling at the House of Ruth and completed 40 hours of community service as required by the probation order.

That probation was up on Nov. 27 of this year. Smothers did everything required of the probation, to no avail. He was canned one week and one day after it was up. Anyone who feels this wasn't coincidence and smells a rat in Smothers' dismissal might be on to something.

There is a way for Frazier to allay such suspicions. Because Smothers' firing was made public, the Police Department should make public the trial board results of every officer on the force charged with domestic violence. And because Smothers can't be the only guilty party, the public has a right to expect that he won't be the only one fired.

And if what cops on the beat are saying is true, the purge should TTC extend into the highest ranks of the Police Department. A steady stream of low-ranking police officers being fired from the force will not convince the public that a serious effort is being made to weed out domestic violence offenders.

It will, in fact, convince us that there may be a William Calley - who took much of the weight for the sins of the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War - phenomenon in effect.

Pub Date: 12/10/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.