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Florissant Police Detective Fired After Video Sparks Outrage — And Protests

Updated at 9:20 p.m. June 10 with additional information from the protest 

Florissant police detective Joshua Smith has lost his job, days after video of him hitting a man with an SUV sparked outrage throughout the region — and protests in one of St. Louis County’s largest municipalities.

Florissant Police Chief Timothy Fagan fired Smith on Wednesday, said Sgt. Craig DeHart. He had been suspended after Real STL News released footage from a residential video camera showing an unmarked police car that Smith was driving hit a man. 

One of the main groups demanding that police stop killing black people, ExpectUs, called for protests on Wednesday evening outside the Florissant Police Department. Since the video was released a few days ago, protests have continued outside the department, part of nationwide protests by people demanding that police be held accountable.

Fagan said in a press conference last Saturday that the FBI will participate in the investigation. Before being fired, Smith had been suspended. Two other officers who were in the car are on leave with pay. St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell asked St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar to investigate, because the son of one of his employees was in the car with Smith.

The man struck by Smith's SUV is resting at home, but his ankle is shattered, said Jerryl Christmas, one of the lawyers representing the man. He did not want to identify his client.

“Him getting fired is us getting to first base,” Christmas said. “We’ve still got a long way to go before we score a run. And we haven’t scored a run yet unless he’s indicted and until he’s convicted. Then we’ll be at home plate. But we haven’t gotten there yet.”

Christmas said the department's decision to fire Smith is not sufficient.  He said the former detective should be criminally charged — and lose his certification as a police officer.

“Because if it’s not, he’ll leave here and go to St. Ann or Ferguson or Richmond Heights or U. City,” Christmas said. “He cannot work as a police officer again. We have to get his certification taken.”

Protestors marched from the police station and gathered outside Florissant Mayor Tim Lowry's home during Wednesday's protest.
Credit David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Protesters marched from the police station and gathered outside Florissant Mayor Tim Lowry's home Wednesday.

Several hours after Smith’s firing became official, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the Florissant Police Department to chant and bang drums. Many marched to Mayor Tim Lowery’s house and made it clear that Smith’s firing was only the first step of a longer process toward accountability.

"Who do you protect? Who do you serve?" people in the crowd yelled at officers stationed in front of the mayor's home.

Afterward, some of the protesters stopped at the intersection of Lindsay Lane and Denis Street, where they kneeled or lay down. Some shouted, "I can't breathe" and "Mama" — among the last words of George Floyd, the man a Minneapolis police officer killed when he pressed his knee to Floyd's neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. Floyd's death sparked weeks of demonstrations in the Twin Cities, across the nation and overseas, as many protesters practiced the kind of activism they saw in Ferguson in 2014.

The increased attention on police was on the minds of protesters in Florissant late Wednesday. 

Henry Logan, who lives in Florissant and was at the demonstration in front of the police station, said Smith should be indicted and convicted of a crime. He also said Florissant officials, including Lowery and Fagan, need to be held accountable. Unlike other St. Louis County cities that have city managers, Florissant gives the mayor authority over city agencies.

“I’m afraid [of] what happened in Ferguson where there was no conviction of Darren Wilson — that the city just kind of went crazy — I’m afraid that might happen to the city where I live in,” Logan said. “And I don’t want to see that.”

“I’m thanking God that he didn’t die,” Logan said of the injured man. “Because number one, that’s a life. And number two, had he died, this would be a totally different response.”

A spokeswoman for the St. Louis County Police Department said any suspected criminal activity in the case is “being thoroughly investigated by our Crimes Against Persons Unit.”

“That investigation is ongoing,” said Tracy Panus of the St. Louis County Police Department. “Once the investigation is complete, the case will be presented to the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for possible charges.”

Lohmar on Monday called the video “shocking and disturbing.”He added there’s another video that shows the encounter from across the street. At his press availability on Wednesday, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said he’d seen the video. Like Lohmar, he called it disturbing.

“I’m not surprised people are upset by that. And this is a trend we’re seeing across the country: More video was available. More of these interactions are documented. And I think it requires a rapid response and an appropriate response from the Florissant Police Department.”

Members of the Missouri National Guard have been on hand at the Florissant Police Department over the past few nights. Page added that if the St. Louis County Police Department is asked to help, “we will.”

“Generally, these protests have been peaceful — even the protests that are at night are peaceful,” Page said. “What I’ve seen is protesters are discouraging anyone who is not peaceful from any of that activity. And we’ve seen that across the country and here in our community that these protests have been focused on their message — and very targeted in their activities.”

Protestors marched down Lindbergh Blvd. well into the evening, moving traffic blockades to shut down intersections.
Credit David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Protestors marched down Lindbergh Boulevard well into the evening, moving traffic blockades to shut down intersections.

Reporter Eric Schmid contributed to this article.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.