Bruised and arrested, teen says police mistreated him

Kevin Smith
Keven Smith, 17, from Menomonie, Wis.
MPR Photo/Stephanie Hemphill

Keith Smith is 17 years old, a home-schooled Zen Buddhist who came to St. Paul Monday with the family pastor to protest the war in Iraq and the Republican National Convention.

On one of the many videos circulating on the internet, he can be seen sitting in an intersection directly in front of a line of police officers.

A few minutes later, Smith said he was walking away from a confrontation between police and demonstrators.

One of the other people walking nearby asked if he had a lighter for a cigarette.

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"I went to see if I had one in my backpack. Almost immediately, I'd say three or four policemen came up, and told me to put my arms behind my head. I was frightened, and I asked why, and they didn't give me a reason, they just said to do it, and they just grabbed me, and I took my arm out from one of the officer's grasps, and at that point they basically tackled me and started beating me," Smith said.

Boot print
What appears to be a boot-print bruise on Kevin Smith's back.
MPR Photo/Stephanie Hemphill

Sitting at his home in Menomonie, he lifted his shirt and displayed what appears to be a boot print on his right shoulder.

He also has scrapes on his arms, chest and hip. He said his shirt was ripped in half. Once he was handcuffed, he said the officers put a big T-shirt over him.

"They put it over my arms so you couldn't really see all the wounds that I had," he said.

The officers told him he would be charged with conspiring to incite a riot. They confiscated his backpack, which contained an ID card that wasn't his. After about two hours, Smith was taken to the Juvenile Detention Center.

"They didn't know what to do with me because I had all these injuries, they didn't have any medical attention to give me, didn't have any supplies for it," he said.

Smith said he asked repeatedly to call his parents, but was never allowed to.

Scrapes and bruises
Keith Smith was detained Monday evening as he was leaving the scene of a fracas between police and demonstrators.
MPR Photo/Stephanie Hemphill

After about twenty minutes in a cell, Smith said he was allowed to leave. He said he was told he would receive his charges in the mail.

"It was at that point that I did go walk quite a ways, and then ask a stranger if I could use their phone, eventually my dad came, picked me up in middle of night," he said.

He said a hospital at Menomonie treated his scratches and bruises.

That day, Regions Hospital reported treating 19 demonstrators and bystanders for minor injuries.

Keith Smith's mother, Melissa Smith-Tourville said she's convinced the officers used unnecessary force. But what she's most upset about is that her son was released from the Juvenile Detention Center onto the street.

"I should have been called while he was there, he should have been offered medical attention, and I should have been the one that picked him up. He should not have been released on his own on the street. He was not an adult," she said.

The official policy of the Juvenile Detention Center is that juveniles are only released to parents.

Police officials won't comment on specific cases, especially cases involving juveniles. But St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington said at a news conference Wednesday that so far they have received no formal complaints about police misconduct.

"We've had phone calls and emails from people that indicate that they will at some point make excessive force or other complaints complaints about police misconduct, but at this point we have yet to receive the written complaint that is required by state law for us to actually initiate a formal internal affairs investigation," Harrington said.

Courts take various factors into account when weighing charges of police brutality, said Jim Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs Association.

He said there's a presumption that people should follow the orders of law enforcement officials. People who resist arrest are subject to force, he said, especially on a day like Monday, when there were numerous clashes between demonstrators and police officers throughout downtown St. Paul.

"And sometimes in a melee, riot situation as you well see and saw, things happen that people get hit or dragged or something of this nature, when if they had just submitted to the arrest as they were told to, none of that should have then happened," Franklin said.

On the other hand, it's hard to define a riot, said Robert Bennett, a trial attorney who has handled police misconduct cases in Minnesota.

"Riot is an excuse that is known to work, so it's often used to excuse bad police conduct as well as be a sufficient justification for it," Bennett said.

Keith Smith and his mother are talking with an attorney, though not Robert Bennett.