The circumstances surrounding the death of 47-year-old Yvette Smith get murkier by the day.
The Bastrop County, Tex., Sheriff’s Department initially said that police responded to Smith’s home after a 911 call about two men fighting over a gun, and that Dep. Daniel Willis shot and killed Smith when she opened the door to her home while holding a firearm.
The story has changed a few times since then. After witnesses came forward to say Smith was unarmed, the department subsequently issued a statement declaring that it is “unclear whether Smith actually had a gun.” And at least as of Monday, the department hadn’t responded to local media requests about whether a gun was found at the scene. In my experience, that means there probably wasn’t one. Evidence favorable to an officer in these cases usually is released quickly. Unfavorable evidence is addressed with obfuscation and statements about the need for more investigation.
According to TV station KXAN, witnesses inside the house also say that the initial 911 call was about two men arguing over money, not over a gun. They also contradict police report statements that “[t]he woman disregarded all commands.”
The shooting occurred on Feb. 16. The kicker came this weekend. From the Austin American-Statesman:
Records pertaining to Bastrop County Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Willis’ performance during field training have been tampered with since Willis was involved in a Feb. 16 shooting that killed a woman, sheriff’s officials say.
Willis, a first-year deputy, remains on administrative leave while the Texas Rangers conduct an investigation into the fatal shooting. . . .
On Monday, Bastrop County Sheriff Terry Pickering said it was brought to his attention that certain supervisors had pulled Willis’ field training records to go back and fix errors.
Field training lasts about 16 weeks. “When we hire someone, they ride with another officer and learn about Bastrop County,” Pickering said, adding that additional training includes learning how the department responds to certain situations.
Pickering said it was noticed several weeks prior to the shooting that some records of new hires had not been properly handled. Supervisors had not signed off on the forms that show how well Willis and others performed during field training, he said. According to Pickering, BCSO staff members had been going back through the records, tabbing pages where signatures were needed and sending those reports to the proper person for signing.
However, Pickering said, supervisor Joey Dzianowski took it upon himself to pull Willis’ records after the Smith shooting and get them properly signed.
This story comes less than a week after a federal jury awarded more than $2 million to the widow of Jonathan Ayers, a pastor killed by Georgia police in 2009. In that case, police investigators also lied about the training of the officer who pulled the trigger. Turns out he didn’t have the proper training to make arrests or carry a gun. Credit to Bastrop County Sheriff Pickering, who found and brought the transgression to the public himself. In the Ayers case, it took an investigator working for attorneys hired by his widow to find the cover-up.