Prosecutors Decline Charges in 2014 Incident Where Lorain Cop Slammed Suspect's Head on Cruiser Windshield: UPDATE

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DASH CAM VIDEO VIA WKYC
  • Dash cam video via WKYC

Federal prosecutors have declined to pursue any charges against Lorain police officers Zachary Ferenec and Christopher Ferenzi, Cleveland.com's Eric Heisig reports this morning. Ferenec slammed Pele Smith's head onto the windshield of a police car during a September 2014 arrest. (See dash cam video and earlier stories below.)

The Lorain Police Department didn't do much internal introspection in the wake of that arrest, waiting until dash cam video was publicly released and Smith had filed a lawsuit to begin a formal investigation. Last fall, Police Chief Cel Rivera said that they probably should have taken a closer look at the incident earlier.

Smith's federal court case is halted for the moment; attorneys are expected to file a joint status report in July and, possibly, get things moving again. - Eric Sandy

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(Update 10/3/16): Lorain police chief Cel Rivera said this weekend that the 2014 incident during which a man's head was slammed onto a cruiser windshield hard enough to shatter the glass will be reviewed again.

The video, which you can watch below, shows the disturbing moment. Officers contended Pele Smith was resisting arrest and that while the video isn't easy to watch, it doesn't fully capture the incident. Smith's attorneys recently filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city and the officer involved.

While three supervisors reviewed the video and written reports and ruled the incident justified at the time, Chief Rivera now says it should have merited further investigation.

“I do want to assure Pele Smith and his family that a full investigation will be done and that the truth will come out so they will truly understand what happened,” Rivera said during a news conference, according to the Chronicle-Telegram.

Rivera said he had asked U.S. Attorney for Northern Ohio Carole Rendon if her office wanted to look at what happened after Smith was stopped for jaywalking on East 34th Street on Sept. 4, 2014. He said federal prosecutors suggested that he have Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will conduct the review, a request Rivera said he’s made.

[snip]

Rivera said in an interview after the news conference, which included several local pastors and Lorain City Councilman Angel Arroyo Jr., D-6th Ward, that in hindsight the incident should have been given a more thorough review initially.


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(Original story 9/30/16): WKYC has disturbing video of the September 2014 arrest of Pele Smith by Lorain police. In the video, which does not show the beginning of the traffic stop, an officer is seen leading Smith toward the cruiser. Smith's head then violently hits the windshield. The glass cracks from the impact.


At the time, Smith was later charged with "tampering with evidence, obstructing official business and resisting arrest. In a plea deal with prosecutors, Smith pleaded guilty and received probation," according to WKYC's review of court records.

Smith filed a civil rights lawsuit against the officers and the department last month.

The Lorain police department hasn't provided full records of the arrest to the station yet but does say that the video, while disturbing, doesn't tell the full story.

Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera released a statement Wednesday calling Smith “a violent drug trafficker” and said the video “does not tell the complete story” and “could be misunderstood" by the public.

According to the Lorain County Clerk of Courts website, Smith has no felony convictions for violent crimes such as assault or robbery. He has prior convictions for drug offenses and possessing a firearm.

“During the arrest and Mr. Smith’s active resistance, he was placed on the hood of the police unit to gain control and conduct a search, as per policy,” Rivera said in his statement. “I would caution observers to not rush to judgment relative to the actions of the police on scene.

“Although it is not easy to watch, police officers explain all of their actions in their police reports.”
We'll update you if and when those reports are released.

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