http://www.tennessean.com/local/arch...27473390.shtmlKilling of family dog unfolds on videotape
By LEON ALLIGOOD
Review finds officers acted
properly in stopping car
Three minutes and seven seconds
tells the story of a dog named
The dog, which was shot at close
range Jan. 1 by a Cookeville
policeman during a felony traffic
stop, belonged to the James Smoak
family of Saluda, N.C. At the time,
the Tennessee Highway Patrol
suspected the Smoaks James, his
wife, Pamela, and his stepson,
Brandon Hayden were involved
in a Nashville-area robbery.
Yesterday, the Tennessee Highway
Patrol acknowledged there was no
robbery, just a calamitous mix-up in
dispatchers working for two
separate patrol offices. This failure
to communicate led to the shooting
of the Smoaks' dog, an incident that
was preserved on videotape by a
dashboard camera in a patrol car.
Even so, the THP officers did not
act inappropriately by making the
felony stop, according to an internal
''Our investigation has found that our
troopers on the scene that night
Trooper David Bush, Trooper Jerry
Phann and Lt. Jerry Andrews did
have probable cause to conduct
what in police terms is called a
'felony stop' of a motorist,'' said
Beth Tucker Womack,
spokeswoman for the Department of
Safety. The THP is part of the
A felony stop is ordered when the
occupants of a car are thought to
have been involved in a crime.
Likewise, the Cookeville Police
Department's internal investigation determined that its officers, who were providing
backup for the troopers, ''performed their duties according to training and policy,''
said department spokesman Capt. Nathan Honeycutt.
As for the shooting of the family pet, Officer Eric Hall said the dog was coming at
him aggressively when he fired.
The animal ''singled me out from the other officers and charged toward me
growling in an aggressive manner,'' Hall wrote in his incident report, which was
included in documents released yesterday.
Officers called the dog a pit bull that made a tense scene even more tense. Last
week, the Smoak family called the dog a mixed-breed bulldog that was as gentle
as ''Scooby Doo.''
Yesterday, the videotape of the stop was released for the public to decide.
The action begins as the Smoaks' car is pulled over in Putnam County. A green
sign pointing to the Algood exit is seen in the frame just ahead of the family's
stopped station wagon. Tractor-trailers and cars whiz by in the flash of the
cruiser's blue lights.
Thirty-eight seconds into the stop, State Trooper David Bush calls the driver out
of the car.
One minute and 30 seconds after their car was pulled over, Pamela Smoak and
her son, 17-year-old Brandon, are ordered out of the car. They comply.
By 2 minutes, all three of the Smoaks are kneeling on the ground, being
handcuffed as the Cookeville officers, in their role as backup protection, train their
shotguns on the three.
At 2:18, James Smoak asks: ''What did I do?'' He is suspected in an area
robbery, Bush replies.
Seconds later the North Carolina man tells officers that dogs are in the car. A beat
later Smoak tells the troopers again that dogs are in the car.
Until 3:05 into the tape, the felony stop is textbook. The suspects are handcuffed
But then Patton appears.
The light-colored canine bounds from the passenger side door, travels outside the
camera's right view for a second and then reappears, following Cookeville Officer
Hall, who is backing up with his shotgun trained on the dog.
At 3:07, Hall fires. The dog falls and rolls over, dead. Each of the Smoaks cries
out in anguish as their pet lies bleeding just a few feet from where they are
handcuffed. ''Why'd you shoot my dog? Why'd you shoot my dog?'' James
Smoak can be heard crying repeatedly.
How this unfortunate event came to pass is what the top brass of the Department
of Safety and the Cookeville Police Department gathered to explain yesterday
afternoon during a news conference.
According to Womack, the incident began when a woman traveling east on I-40
called the Nashville THP dispatcher at 4:52 p.m. She reported that she had been
passed by a green station wagon traveling at a high rate of speed. The woman said
an amount of money had been thrown out the window.
As all involved later found out, Smoak had left his wallet on top of his car when he
bought gas on Old Hickory Boulevard in Hermitage. Apparently, the wallet stayed
on the car until it passed the Mt. Juliet exit, at which point it fell, scattering more
than $400 in small bills over the interstate median. Troopers recovered the cash
and returned it to Smoak.
But, at the time the wallet fell off the car, the alert cell phone user was suspicious
of the cash and the green car. She called the highway patrol.
Dispatcher Shannon Pickard of the Nashville office told investigators the woman
believed the out-of-state car had ''been up to something.'' His statement was
provided to reporters yesterday.
According to Womack, Pickard issued a bulletin at 5 p.m. to all Middle
Tennessee law enforcement agencies to inquire whether any robberies had
occurred involving a green station wagon with out-of-state tags. No replies fitting
the description were received.
In Cookeville, THP dispatcher Timothy Glenn McHood issued a BOLO notice,
which means ''be on the lookout,'' to the troopers in his area. In an interview with
THP investigators, McHood said he noted that the green station wagon ''could
possibly'' have been involved in a robbery.
At 5:07 p.m., the THP report noted, Trooper Bush spotted the Smoaks' car.
According to Womack, this incident has led to an examination of the department's
radio room procedures, particularly as to documentation. Some of the messages
between Nashville and Cookeville cannot be substantiated because the operators
communicated using a phone that is not recorded.
Meanwhile, the Cookeville Police Department has instigated a third-party
examination of the situation. A police chief in Gaithersburg, Md., will conduct an
independent investigation. Officer Hall has been reassigned to an administrative
position pending the outcome of that investigation.
The Smoaks, contacted at their home, offered no comment on the tape or on
THP's ruling, but said they were in the process of hiring a lawyer to represent
them in possible litigation.