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Officer admits to covering up crash after unauthorized Georgetown chase

A former U.S. Capitol Police officer pleaded guilty Wednesday to violating an individual’s civil rights by engaging in a reckless vehicle pursuit in Georgetown and trying to conceal his involvement in the June 2020 incident that left the rider of a motorized bicycle injured.

Thomas Smith, 46, faces a statutory maximum punishment of up to 10 years in prison at sentencing Jan. 22 on one count of deprivation of rights under color of law in federal court in Washington, D.C., according to authorities. In a plea deal, U.S. prosecutors agreed to drop additional counts of making false statements, falsifying police records and obstructing justice, although Smith’s conduct counts toward a recommended sentence of 18 to 24 months in prison under advisory federal guidelines.

A member of the force for more than 10 years, Smith admitted to participating in an improper chase in Northwest Washington on June 20, 2020. According to plea papers, Smith was on duty and driving a marked sedan past the Washington-area homes of members of Congress, making security-related “dignitary checks.” Shortly after 11:30 p.m., he began pursuing two motorized bicycles at high speed southbound on Wisconsin Avenue NW, between Reservoir Road and M Street, in the Georgetown area, according to court papers.

Capitol police policies prohibit vehicular pursuits outside Capitol grounds, except in emergencies and upon supervisory approval, according to plea papers. Smith did not seek approval or notify a dispatcher that he was involved in a chase, he acknowledged.

The police car collided with one of the cycles approaching the M Street intersection, knocking its rider, identified only as “W.W.,” into the air “before he hit the asphalt roadway,” suffering cuts and abrasions, according to court filings. In a signed statement of offense, Smith acknowledged that he drove his cruiser around the unconscious W.W. and left the scene, taking no action to notify anyone, seek medical assistance or “to ensure that no further harm came to W.W. as he lay on the road.”

After returning to a police garage with the damaged sedan, the indictment says, Smith attempted to make it appear that he had been driving a Capitol police SUV that night, not the sedan. He admitted to entering false information about which vehicle he had been assigned and making false entries in computerized logs and false statements to a U.S. Capitol Police sergeant after D.C. police notified the agency of the crash in Georgetown, according to the statement of offense.

The rider of the bicycle, William White, sued Smith and the federal government in June, seeking $5 million in damages for his physical and mental health injuries, lost wages and pain suffering.

In an emailed statement, Smith’s attorney J. Michael Hannon wrote that the officer “made a mistake that night, which is why he pled guilty. Fortunately, Mr. White suffered only minor scrapes and bruises. And Mr. White is also fortunate that night because he was intoxicated on opioids and face-timing as he rode. He had to be sedated in the ambulance, and was treated with narcan at the hospital before he was released with a narcan prescription.”

White attorney Michael Bruckheim responded in an email, “Mr. White still suffers from the effects of this incident to this day. Officer Smith would not and does not have any knowledge relating to whether Mr. White was facetiming or Mr. White’s condition upon arriving unconscious at the hospital because he fled the scene like a coward. His statement demonstrates his ongoing and complete lack of remorse or concern for Mr. White’s well-being.”

Bruckheim and co-counsel Sweta Patel added that White was not told by the government that he was a victim or struck by a Capitol Police vehicle until Smith was indicted and not informed of the officer’s plea until Wednesday. “As the victim in this case, he had the right to be informed in a timely fashion,” Bruckheim said.

A federal judge in Washington referred attorneys for White and the Justice Department into mediation for a potential settlement of his lawsuit at both sides’ request late last month.

Smith is the 10th law enforcement or corrections worker since 2022 that federal prosecutors have indicted with or convicted of civil rights violations, abuse or homicide in D.C. for conduct while on-duty..

“Like all of our law enforcement partners, we know that the overwhelming majority of U.S. Capitol Police officers do their difficult and dangerous jobs honorably and lawfully,” U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves said in a written announcement of Smith’s plea. “But former officer Smith violated the Constitution and abused his position by recklessly engaging in a dangerous pursuit that resulted in an unnecessary collision that could have had devastating results. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to protecting the civil rights of all District residents and to holding accountable individuals who violate those rights.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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