A St. Mary's County sheriff's deputy did not manhandle or wrongfully detain two brothers whose family was embroiled in a high-profile case of alleged sexual abuse, a St. Mary's County Circuit Court jury concluded this week.
The jury's verdict in a civil damages lawsuit cleared Deputy 1st Class Diane Thompson on all six allegations by Travis and Benjamin Smith, who had claimed she assaulted, battered and falsely imprisoned them in a June 1992 incident.
The Smiths, of Lexington Park, are the younger brothers of Donna Christine Smith, whose accusation of sexual abuse against her father and her subsequent recantation of the charges were the subjects of national headlines in 1993 and 1994.
Travis and Benjamin Smith, now 18 and 21 respectively, had alleged in the civil case decided Monday that they were mishandled by St. Mary's County sheriff's deputies who had accompanied social service workers trying to remove them from their parents' home in June 1992. Allegations in the lawsuit against Sheriff's Sgt. Mickey Bailey were dismissed at the conclusion of the Smiths' evidence.
"I'm really glad it's over. I was just doing my job," said Thompson, 31, after the verdict. "I've said that all along, and I still say that."
"We are pleased," said St. Mary's County Sheriff Richard J. Voorhaar (R). "[Thompson] was clearly doing her job. This case should never have been brought about. The jury made a wise decision."
Donna Smith, who is now 25 and living in another state, first drew attention to her family in 1992, when she publicly accused her father, Danny Smith, of raping and sodomizing her throughout her childhood while he was a member of a satanic cult. She detailed those charges at length in a profile published in Esquire magazine.
Shortly after her father's criminal trial ended with a hung jury and a mistrial, she recanted, saying she had been coaxed into her "recovered" memories of abuse while overly medicated by overzealous therapists. Smith's tearful reunion with her father was featured on the ABC-TV newsmagazine "20/20."
During the investigation into the abuse case, after Donna Smith had been placed in foster care, social service workers became concerned about the welfare of the two children--Travis and Benjamin--remaining in the care of Smith and his wife, Judee. According to testimony in last week's trial proceedings, Donna had told her counselors that the boys were likely to be abused in a satanic ritual during the summer solstice in June 1992.
Social service employees drew up emergency paperwork to remove the two boys from the home.
Thompson and other sheriff's deputies chased down the Smith boys and handcuffed them when the officers tried to remove them from the Smith home on June 17 of that year. The boys ultimately were returned to their parents the same day after an emergency hearing, and their case was later dropped.
Judee Smith said that Travis and Benjamin were "very, very disappointed" with the verdict. The family has reached two out-of-court settlements with therapists and the Baltimore hospital involved in Donna Smith's treatment.
"They can't understand how so much lying and deceit went on and they can't get justice," Judee Smith said.
Travis, a senior at Great Mills High School, remained impassive after the verdict. Benjamin, 21, a salesman at a Waldorf car dealership, left the courtroom in tears.
Absent from the courtroom throughout the trial was Donna Smith, who has since married, moved out of state and become a registered nurse. She has completely reconciled with her family, including her father, who is a logistics analyst for a Lexington Park government contractor.
The Smith family now believes Donna's previous behavior was brought about because she was suffering at the time from undiagnosed Graves' disease, a hyperactive thyroid condition that can cause nervousness, mood changes and bizarre behavior. Her thyroid eventually was removed.
Judee Smith said she told her daughter Tuesday by telephone of the jury's decision. "She said she was sorry we were disappointed," Smith said.
CAPTION: Deputy 1st Class Diane Thompson was alleged to have mishandled the detention of two boys.