The younger brothers of Donna Christine Smith, the former Lexington Park girl whose accusation and then recantation of sexual abuse charges against her father in 1993 made national headlines, returned to St. Mary's Circuit Court last week for their civil case alleging they were mistreated by police investigating the abuse case.
Travis and Benjamin Smith, who are now 18 and 21 respectively, have alleged that they were assaulted, battered and falsely imprisoned by two St. Mary's County sheriff's deputies who accompanied social services workers trying to remove the boys from their Lexington Park home in June 1992.
The Smiths' lawyer has argued the boys suffered tremendously at the hands of at least one overzealous investigator who he said was out to get their father, Danny Smith. The boys were handcuffed and forcibly removed from their home by two deputies in a messy, emotional scene on June 17, 1992.
On Thursday, Judge C. Clarke Raley dismissed the case against one of those officers, Sheriff's Sgt. Mickey Bailey, ruling the Smiths lacked evidence to support the allegations against him.
But the case continues against the other officer, Deputy 1st Class Diane Thompson, 31. She has maintained for seven years that she did nothing improper, and that the boys were removed because social services workers feared for their safety. A review of the incident by the sheriff's internal affairs staff found no wrongdoing by Thompson.
Testimony in the trial that began Tuesday covered much of the same ground that riveted St. Mary's County from 1992 through 1994 and was ultimately dissected in The Washington Post and Esquire magazine, and on the television newsmagazine "20/20": allegations of sexual abuse, satanic worship, multiple personalities, medical malpractice and police misconduct.
The controversy began in 1990 when Donna Smith, then 17, sought treatment for bulimia. She saw 11 different therapists before ending up with Cathy Meyers, who at that time worked at the Center for Children in Charles County. During her therapy with Meyers, Smith began recalling what she and her therapist determined were repressed memories of sexual abuse.
Donna Smith would ultimately testify at her father's 1993 criminal trial that he raped her and sodomized her repeatedly from the time she was 3 until age 17. The Smith family, Donna Smith told investigators, were members of a satanic cult.
Meyers and, later, Smith's doctors from Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Baltimore, ultimately came to believe that Donna Smith suffered from multiple personality disorder, and at one point doctors believed they had identified more than 60 "alters" or other personalities, within Donna's body.
Because Donna Smith had been removed from the home, a county social worker testified this week, the St. Mary's Department of Social Services was obliged to investigate whether or not the two younger Smith children, Travis, then 10, and Benjamin, then 14, had been abused by their father. Thompson's efforts to interview the boys at school were unsuccessful, and the Smith family sent them to live with relatives at the time.
On June 17, 1992, according to testimony at the trial, child protective services worker Monica L. Bankins and others grew further concerned about the boys' welfare because Donna had told them the boys were likely to be abused at a satanic ritual during the upcoming "summer solstice." Bankins and others drew up a social services limited custody form ordering their removal and scheduled medical testing.
"They were drug out of their home on a calm summer morning by two police officers . . . and for years they were traumatized and could not stand the sight of a police car," said their father, Danny Smith, 51, a logistics analyst for a Lexington Park government contractor.
Benjamin Smith now works as a car salesman at a Waldorf dealership; Travis is a senior at Great Mills High School.
One of the key issues of the trial is whether the emergency removal was necessary. A county-approved psychologist had examined the boys several days before and found they had not been abused. Social services employees said they were not aware of those findings before June 17.
On Friday, as Deputy Thompson testified about events that June day, Travis Smith appeared visibly upset. Thompson told jurors that she and other law enforcement personnel went to the Smith house. Travis and Benjamin went out the back door, attempting to flee, she said. A crying Judee Smith, the boys' mother, begged the officers not to handcuff her "babies."
As the boys grew increasingly belligerent, Thompson testified, they were handcuffed and put into a patrol car.
Thompson and the social workers were on their way to a Montgomery County hospital, where the boys were to undergo a second psychiatric evaluation, when they were ordered to return to St. Mary's County by the county sheriff who had been contacted by the family's three furious attorneys. After an emergency hearing, the boys were returned to their parents that same day. The case involving them ultimately was dropped.
The Smiths' attorney, Jay Schwartz of Baltimore, must prove that Deputy Thompson acted with intentional malice in the incident, because of a state statute that provides qualified immunity from liability for state employees. The Maryland Court of Appeals resolved that issue in an appeal in this case, ruling in March that the case could go to trial on the allegations of malicious conduct.
A federal lawsuit filed in conjunction with the state case found that the defendants had not violated the boys' federal civil rights.
One Smith family member noticeably absent from the courtroom last week was Donna Christine Smith, now 25, who is married and living in another state, where she works as a registered nurse. In 1993, shortly after Danny Smith's criminal trial ended with a hung jury and a mistrial was declared, she recanted her charges against her father, saying that she had been heavily medicated and was influenced by her therapists and doctors at Sheppard-Pratt. She was also diagnosed as suffering from Graves' disease, a hyperactive thyroid condition that can cause nervousness, mood changes and bizarre behavior. Her thyroid eventually was removed.
The Smiths ultimately settled out of court for undisclosed sums with Donna Smith's social worker and Sheppard-Pratt. The family has completely reconciled, they say.
One of the first pieces of evidence introduced in Travis and Benjamin's civil trial was a picture of Donna and her father dancing at Donna's 1997 wedding. It was held on her father's birthday, in honor of him.
CAPTION: St. Mary's County Deputy Diane Thompson, accused of mistreating Smith boys, leaves civil trial Friday.
CAPTION: The Smith family in May 1994, the year following the mistrial and Donna Smith's recantation. From left, Donna, brother Benjamin, mother Judee, father Danny and brother Travis.