Cleveland Daily Banner, clevelandbanner.com
BYLINE: DAVID DAVIS, Managing Editor
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A Cleveland police officer dismissed for mishandling evidence is appealing the decision to City Manager Janice Casteel.
Roger Smith said in a three-page handwritten letter released by the city manager, he believes the action was unfair.
Casteel said this morning she has not set a date for the appeal.
The retired Army veteran, who served three tours in Iraq and was awarded the Bronze Star, said he has never been so humiliated.
Smith’s dismissal rose from events surrounding a July 10 fatal traffic crash on APD-40 that claimed the life of 24-year-old Dustin Ledford.
The crash occurred when Tiffany Isaza, 29, who was driving a 2002 Ford Taurus in the wrong direction, struck Ledford, who was driving a 1990 Toyota Camry. Isaza was transported to Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga where she was in intensive care.
She is currently in the intermediate care unit, according to hospital patient information.
The investigation into the crash is ongoing, according to Bradley County Sheriff information officer Bob Gault. No details were released.
Smith stated he was having dinner at Denny’s on Paul Huff Parkway with two supervisors (Sgt. Scott Bronze and Lt. Sheila Freeman), and Officer Jansen Vassey, when they were alerted over the radio to be on the lookout for a vehicle going the wrong way on APD-40. While he was still at the restaurant, dispatch reported an accident with injuries.
After eating, Smith stated he went to SkyRidge Medical Center on a matter unrelated to the accident on APD-40. Smith said he departed the hospital through the emergency exit where there was an ambulance. An EMT standing outside the open rear doors of the ambulance, “turned to me and handed me a bag and simply stated, ‘Hey, this belongs to him, it was in his pocket.’”
Smith stated there was no name given nor a chain of custody and he never saw the bag taken from the victim. The bag looked like a sandwich bag that had been rolled up and he could not see the contents of the bag.
“Again, I had no knowledge of what was in the bag,” he wrote in his statement. “I tossed the bag in my vehicle and proceeded to answering calls the rest of the night.”
Upon returning to the station at about 5:10 a.m., he stated he was dispatched on an alarm call on North Lee Highway and returned at about 6 a.m.
“This is where I failed to do my job properly, and left the bag inside my car,” he wrote. “Upon returning to work the next day, I was dispatched to a call in reference to drug traffic.”
He wrote that Freeman called asking the whereabouts of the county’s evidence.
“I was very confused and stated I don’t have it and I possibly may have throw-a-way,” he wrote. “Please understand how much information we have to process on an average night. My mind was racing and once I hung up it finally hit me. It was the bag from last night which I could not find until I looked between my passenger seat and I immediately rushed to the station and met up with Lt. Freeman.”
He stated Freeman asked why he had lied. He stated he was confused and he was sorry. He expressed his sympathy for the loss of the victim; however, he did not hide anything and neither did he have any reservations about using the contents as evidence.
He said retiring from the Army and returning to Cleveland, “My birth home was the happiest time of my life and one of my proudest moments was being hired at the Cleveland Police Department. I loved serving this community and truly speaking, would have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect any citizen of the great city.”
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