Former Fla. firefighter claims cop got him fired, files lawsuit
Lewis Ashley Smith, who was not prosecuted on a charge of disorderly conduct, blames Daytona Beach Police Officer Shawn Clark for losing his job
The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The bars closed and all the noise and revelry of another final Saturday of Bike Week went quiet. Blue and red lights flashed on police motorcycles while officers patrolled Main Street in the early morning hours of that Sunday in 2017.
Lewis Ashley Smith, a Martin County firefighter-paramedic at the time, was in town for Bike Week with his wife and another couple. But the couple were arguing, and Smith said he was standing on the sidewalk trying to calm them when Daytona Beach Police Officer Shawn Clark noticed the raised voices.
Clark, in full uniform and sitting on his police motorcycle, said he watched the argument for about a minute or so, according to a police report. Then Clark told the group to move along, "not air their business and to start walking."
Smith, though, didn't. According to Clark, Smith turned and said to him, "No, you start walking."
The confrontation ended in the arrests of Smith and his wife, and the eventual firing of Smith from his job as a firefighter. Smith, who was not prosecuted on a charge of disorderly conduct, blames Clark for losing his job and has sued the officer and the city of Daytona Beach.
The argument between Clark and Smith escalated after that first exchange.
At some point, Smith let the officer know he was a Martin County firefighter and that didn't help him in his confrontation with Clark, who sounded a little triggered by then, and kept coming with his handcuffs.
"Well, you are going to jail now and I'm going to call your (expletive deleted) fire chief and tell him how much of an (expletive deleted) you are!" a man the lawsuit identifies as Clark yelled at Smith, police body-worn camera video shows.
Smith protested on the video. He had only been trying to apologize and again said that he was a Martin County firefighter. Clark seemed to suggest Smith's firefighting days were numbered.
"No, you did, you did, you did, because I'm going to (expletive deleted) bury you now," Clark said.
Clark followed through, according to the lawsuit which alleges false arrest and accuses him of contacting the Martin County Fire Rescue Department to make what Smith said were false accusations against him, leading to his termination.
Smith, 39, is represented by attorney Howard S. Marks in the lawsuit filed in April before Circuit Judge Leah Case.
"The worst part was the officer took it upon himself, or with the department's blessings, I'm not sure yet," Marks said in a phone interview, "and continued to call his bosses at the Fire Department and really presented such a false narrative that got my client terminated from his position."
The lawsuit accuses Clark of acting with malice against Smith, stating Clark "decided to take matters into his own hands and mete out his own form of vigilante justice as he deemed fit."
According to the lawsuit, Clark "was either clearly mistaken or purposefully alleged false statements that plaintiff was yelling and shouting and acting as if he was going to come after the officer to fight."
Smith is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and is now working periodically as a medical technician for a security company, Marks said.
Clark sent an email on March 21 to Erica Kijanski, the program manager at Martin County Fire Rescue in which Clark wrote that he would send Smith's affidavit as soon as it is ready.
"I hate doing this, but as many chances as he was given, and his actions towards officers I feel I should say something. He represents an agency the same way that I do. If you have an question please feel free to call or email me."
Daytona Beach Police Department spokesman Jimmy Flynt said there is no additional body camera video which would show what happened leading up to Smith's arrest.
Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The city denies the allegations and states the officer had probable cause to arrest Smith and states, among other defenses, that it is protected by sovereign immunity, according to its response filed Wednesday. Clark, who is represented by the city, in his response argues that he is protected by qualified immunity which shields government employees from being held personally liable unless they acted with malicious purpose, bad faith or wanton disregard of human rights.
The confrontation with Clark wasn't Smith's first documented clash with a police officer.
It was the third time Smith "has engaged in inappropriate behavior where law enforcement is concerned," Martin County Fire Rescue Division Chief Jon O. Belding wrote in a memo following Smith's arrest during Bike Week 2017.
In January 2015, Smith was suspended without pay for one shift for arguing with a law enforcement officer and trying to use his position as a firefighter to get leniency, according to Belding's memo. It did not specify the agency but in another document it states it was an out-of-state officer.
And a Martin County investigation found that in July 2016 Smith engaged in "inappropriate behavior" toward two Port St. Lucie Police officers, who said he had been "disrespectful and argumentative" with them.
"It is concerning that FM Smith continues to engage in inappropriate behavior where law enforcement is concerned and does not appear to learn from the previous mistakes that he has made," Belding wrote in his memo.
Smith also did not notify the Fire Department of his arrest in Daytona Beach within 24 hours as outlined in policies, according to a March 30, 2017 memo from William Schobel, Martin County Fire Rescue chief.
Smith also has had conflicts with his own department, county documents show. Smith received a written warning on Aug. 12, 2016 after an investigation found that he made "physical violence threats" toward two fire lieutenants.
According to Clark, Smith said that the arrest would never hold up in court.
And, officials said, he would have been right. The State Attorney's Office declined to prosecute Smith. It also declined to prosecute Smith's wife, Mondie Leigh Smith, who was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct after she was accused of interfering as officers arrested her husband.
There were a number of statements from defense witnesses that would have made proving the case difficult, wrote 7th Circuit State Attorney's Office spokesman Spencer Hathaway in an email.
"The facts don't amount to disorderly conduct and the defendant lost his job over this," Hathaway wrote quoting the prosecutor on the case.
One of those statements was from Chad Mallonee who was one half of the arguing couple that Smith had tried to calm down.
Mallonee, whose wife gave a similar account, said in his statement that "In my opinion the arrest was completely baseless and the Officer was the one who was the aggressor and escalated the situation due to his extremely aggressive and brash actions."
©2019 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla.