LORAIN - Pele Smith can barely watch. Millions of others have seen it over and over.
“I can’t get through the video because it just…it bothers me emotionally. It tears me up. I never thought something like that would happen to me,” Smith told WKYC Channel 3 News.
In an exclusive interview, Smith recounted the events leading up to the dramatic police dash cam video that shows his face shattering a cruiser windshield. This incident happened two years ago, but the video was never shown publicly until prosecutors released it to Channel 3 News in October.
In his interview, Smith said he was walking away from his mother’s home on 34th Street in Lorain when he noticed undercover officers nearby.
“I don’t see them coming, I hear them coming,” he said. “They sped up real quick.”
Smith said he asked officers why they were stopping him.
“They said, jaywalking. I said excuse me? They said jaywalking,” he recalled.
Smith, 32, said he cooperated with the officers and agreed to be frisked. He said he was not carrying a weapon or anything illegal. Nonetheless, police believe he swallowed drugs. They then tried to wrestle Smith to the ground while holding his neck.
“I can’t breathe. I can’t say nothing,” he recalled. “I can’t scream. I can’t yell for help or nothing.”
Smith’s mother and his 2-year-old son were outside and witnessed the confrontation.
He said officers used a derogatory name against his mother and threatened her arrest if she tried to intervene. It was about this time that Lorain Patrolman Zack Ferenec drove up. Smith’s hands were cuffed behind his back as Ferenec walked him to his cruiser.
“As we get close to the car I just get lifted up and get slammed on my face – boom – and cracked the whole windshield,” he said.
Smith’s chin is cut and he is placed in the back of the cruiser. A second officer then takes a seat next to him. Smith said the officer is taunting him during their ride to a hospital. Smith is treated and released. No drugs – only over the counter Excedrin – were found in Smith’s possession.
“It wasn’t justified at all. All I did was cross a street,” Smith said.
A swift internal review found the officers acted appropriately and no one was disciplined. Smith, meanwhile, was charged with tampering with evidence and resisting arrest. Fearing potential prison time, he accepted a prosecutor’s offer for probation and pleaded guilty.
After the video was released, Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera said he would ask Prosecutor Dennis Will to review the incident. After about six weeks, Will has yet to complete the review. Rivera also appeared at two community events, defending his officers.
Lorain police were also investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice in a probe that ended in 2012. The investigation noted prior misconduct by officers and raised concerns of leadership under Rivera.
Rivera has remained in charge of the department and last week received an $18,000 pay raise, pushing his salary over $100,000.
He has declined to respond to numerous interview requests.
Meanwhile, Smith and his attorney, Mark Petroff, have filed a federal lawsuit against the department.
“Justice. Nothing more. Nothing less. And I think everybody should be held accountable for what they’ve done,” Smith said.
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