University of Florida Police Department (UPD) Officer Keith Smith was fired on Sept. 1 after pulling over a reckless driver and threatening to shoot him.
If the name “Keith Smith” doesn’t ring a bell, he’s the same officer that got reprimanded in 2008 when he accompanied intoxicated Gainesville Police Department (GPD) officers in an incident that involved throwing eggs at “suspected drug dealers and prostitutes” in a poor black neighborhood. This would contribute later to accusations of racism among student protesters and community members, but the facts in this case were questionable. According to his personal file with the UPD, Smith was reprimanded for witnessing wrongdoing (the egg-throwing by GPD officers) but failing to prevent it on three occasions.
Two years later, he shot a physically handicapped black graduate student in the face, resulting in a life-threatening injury, a tidal wave of student protests, and a soon-to-be-released documentary.
Kofi Adu-Brempong, an international graduate student from Ghana, had suffered from polio in his childhood and therefore walked with a cane. On March 2, 2010, a concerned neighbor called 911 to report screaming in Adu-Brempong’s apartment, which may have been the result of a nervous breakdown. For at least a year before the incident, Adu-Brempong had suffered from paranoid delusions. He refused to let police officers enter his apartment, and after about 90 minutes, they forcefully entered. “I’m fine!” he shouted. The officers tried to subdue him with a Taser and a beanbag gun and then shot him twice, in his hand and his face, with a Bushmaster M-4 rifle.
UPD’s Critical Incident Response Team (sort of like UF’s SWAT team), which included Smith, claimed Adu-Brempong had threatened them with a knife and a pipe during the 52 seconds between their entrance and the final shot fired. As it turned out, there was no knife involved and the “pipe” they referred to was a table leg. To be fair, the room was dark.
Ten months later, the UPD received national recognition for their “innovative law enforcement responses to people with mental illnesses.”
UF’s Coalition for Justice Against Police Brutality, a student group that used to be called “Justice for Kofi,” led a series of protests and made a list of demands for the UF administration and the State Attorney’s office, which included an independent police review board, an independent investigation into the shooting, and the termination of Officer Smith, who fired the bullet that remains lodged in Kofi Adu-Brempong’s spine.
Smith no longer works for the UPD, but his termination had nothing to do with the shooting, according to UPD Chief Linda Stump. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s initial investigation had cleared Smith of wrongdoing, Stump says, and the decision to fire Smith was triggered by his behavior on July 23, 2011.
A twenty-year-old white male had been recklessly driving a Mercedes-Benz convertible at 79 miles per hour while throwing bottles out the window. Smith chased him down at a high speed and pulled him over, resulting in a confrontation in which Smith shouted and threatened to shoot him. Smith was temporarily suspended and, on Sept. 1, Stump decided to make it permanent, writing that she had “lost confidence” in his judgment. Ironically, Smith’s career didn’t end with the bang that shattered Kofi’s jaw, but with a relatively silent whimper in which he drove at an “unsafe speed” and threatened to shoot a privileged white kid.