published Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

Lawyer: Evidence may clear Chattanooga police officer

WHAT HAPPENED

Chattanooga Police Department Officer Brian Smith called police on May 23 to report domestic vandalism, claiming that his wife, Ginny Smith, had destroyed some of his things several days before, according to a police report.

He admitted to police he got upset with his wife, got in her face and threatened her, saying, "I should knock your block off" while making a fist.

But Brian Smith told police he did not hit his wife.

Ginny Smith told police that her husband had gotten angry with her and "grabbed her around the neck and began strangling her" saying "If I am going down, it will be for something good."

Investigator Kevin Willoughby arrested Brian Smith on a charge of domestic assault and Ginny Smith on a vandalism charge.

A local defense lawyer claims the city is refusing to allow testimony into court that could clear a domestic assault charge against his client, a Chattanooga police officer.

Attorney Bill Speek said Ginny Smith, the wife of his client, Chattanooga Police Officer Brian Smith, gave contradictory statements about an alleged incident between her and her husband.

"I have information that indicates that Mrs. Smith made up statements; she lied; she made it up; it never happened; she was angry and trying to hurt him," Speek said in court Tuesday.

Brian Smith, 44, was charged with domestic assault after a May 19 incident at the couple's 5404 Thornhill Lane home in Hixson.

The police department opened an internal affairs investigation.

Speek claims that Ginny Smith, 39, told police two stories about the May 19 incident. He wants Chattanooga Police Detective Vinne Holoman to answer questions in court about what Ginny Smith said during the internal investigation.

Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Christie Mahn Sell heard brief arguments from Speek, prosecutor Rodney Strong and Chattanooga staff attorney Valerie Malueg.

Malueg asked the judge not to require the city to release information from the police department's ongoing internal affairs investigation.

It is city policy not to comment on pending litigation.

Speek argued he did not want records or documents, only that Holiman take the stand to answer questions about Ginny Smith's statements.

"Why are they trying to keep away from the court the fact that Mrs. Smith has lied and admitted to lying?" Speek said after the hearing.

Strong told the judge that allowing Holiman to testify would open the entire internal affairs case file, which is against city policy.

The judge said putting the officer on the stand would be a "slippery slope" and could bring information into court that is part of an ongoing investigation.

She told the attorneys she would review the matter and hold another hearing, the fourth in this case, on July 30, to decide whether the internal affairs information would be allowed.

Speek said after the hearing that the city is being selective about releasing information because his client is a police officer. In other cases not involving police, contradictory statements would be allowed. He also questioned Strong's support of city policy.

"I don't understand why the district attorney's office is hiding the truth in this case," Speek said. "At the end of the day the rights of the accused trump the policy of internal affairs."

He worried about the effects of not being able to get Ginny Smith's statements into court.

"The statement could exonerate my guy. And he [Strong] doesn't want it coming out," he said.

Strong declined to comment, citing ethics rules about talking publicly about pending cases.

Contact staff writer Todd South at or 423-757-6347 tsouth@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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