UPD officer fired over handling of traffic stop
Keith Smith is the same officer who shot UF doctoral student in 2010
Published: Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 8:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 11:50 p.m.
University of Florida Police Officer Keith Smith, who last year shot a doctoral student in a case that led to protests and calls for his dismissal, was fired from the department Thursday after threatening to shoot a 20-year-old man he had pulled over for reckless driving.
Smith reported that the Gainesville man was driving 79 mph in a 35-mph zone on West University Avenue and throwing bottles and other objects from his Mercedes-Benz convertible. Dashboard video of the July 23 incident, which included readings of the police cruiser's speed, showed that Smith pursued the convertible at speeds up to 77 mph.
When the car stopped but continued to creep forward near 34th Street, Smith can be seen on the video running toward the open convertible. As the driver asked where Smith wanted him to stop, Smith launched into an expletive-laced outburst in which he threatened to shoot the man before pulling him from the car and handcuffing him.
Smith's six years in the department included the March 2, 2010, shooting of Kofi Adu-Brempong, a UF doctoral student in geography. Adu-Brempong, who had been experiencing mental health problems, threatened officers with a metal table leg before Smith shot him in the face and hand. Adu-Brempong was seriously injured but survived.
Smith also was involved in incidents in 2008 in which he accompanied Gainesville police officers who threw eggs at suspected drug dealers and prostitutes in the Porter's neighborhood. Smith was given a reprimand in the egg-throwing case but cleared of wrongdoing in an investigation into Adu-Brempong's shooting.
Adu-Brempong's cousin, Danielle Agyemang, said Thursday that she thought the UF campus would be safer with Smith gone and was glad the officer's history had caught up with him.
"It was just a matter of time. Justice has finally prevailed," she said.
In an Aug. 26 letter to Smith, UF Police Chief Linda Stump wrote that she had "lost confidence" in Smith's judgment and his "ability to appropriately and consistently" perform his law-enforcement duties in the university community.
"By way of example only, I recently learned that you drove your police vehicle at an unsafe speed and in an unsafe manner in effectuating a traffic stop," she wrote. "This error in judgement was compounded by your conduct at the traffic stop itself."
The traffic stop happened around 2:42 a.m. when Smith reported the Mercedes driver had hit other cars with thrown objects and caused other cars to brake rapidly. UF police patrol the streets around the campus along with the campus itself, but department policy limits the use of high-speed pursuits to only the most serious incidents.
Smith, 30, was suspended with pay before being given notice of a decision to "discontinue/non-renew" his appointment, meaning he was essentially fired from his job effective Thursday. Smith will receive three months in salary under UF regulations, according to a letter about the decision.
Smith couldn't be reached, and Brandon Kutner, president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association's North-Central chapter, said both he and Smith wouldn't comment about the details of the case. Kutner said he believed that a decision to not renew an officer's appointment without an investigation and just cause violated the state's police officer bill of rights.
"At this point, we're looking at our legal options at challenging the University of Florida's employment policies," he said.
Protesters of the Adu-Brempong shooting had demanded for Smith to be fired in rallies held last year. Dave Schneider, a member of Students for a Democratic Society and a protest leader, said the Adu-Brempong shooting and racially charged egg-throwing incident should have led long ago to Smith's dismissal.
"The straw that broke the camel's back is he pulled someone over and yelled at him?" Schneider said. "It's unbelievable that he's been on the force this long."
Stump, in an email to The Sun, said the shooting had nothing to do with the decision on Smith's contract, as he was exonerated of wrongdoing in that investigation. She said the actions surrounding the traffic stop would be discussed with an advisory committee of faculty, staff and students that was formed in response to the shooting.
The shooting happened after UF police responded to reports of screaming from Adu-Brempong's campus apartment. Adu-Brempong, who had been experiencing delusions about a plot to kill him, barricaded himself inside. When police stormed the apartment, Adu-Brempong threatened officers with a table leg.
Smith, armed with a rifle as part of the department's Critical Incident Response Team, shot Adu-Brempong in the face and hand. Adu-Brempong, a native of Ghana who walked with a cane because of a childhood case of polio, suffered serious injuries that required multiple surgeries. He later reached an undisclosed settlement with UF.
The commanding officer during the shooting, Lt. Stacy Ettel, was fired for violating department regulations. But Smith, suspended during an investigation into the incident, kept his job.
Smith started at the department in 2005. He earned a criminology degree from UF the previous year and held security jobs at Gainesville nightclubs in college, employment records show.
The egg throwing happened in November 2008 and involved Smith and three Gainesville police officers. An investigation found the group had been drinking and that at least two of the Gainesville officers threw eggs in the Porter's neighborhood, but Smith reported that he was feeling sick from drinking and didn't throw any eggs himself.
In February 2009, he was issued an oral reprimand for conduct unbecoming an officer for failing to remove himself from inappropriate actions. He also received an oral reprimand in 2007 for pursuing a vehicle that did not stop at Southwest Depot Avenue and Southwest 11th Street.
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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