Tulare Man’s Problems With Law Enforcement Continue

Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith

Life hasn’t settled down for Jonathan Smith, or his father Michael Koonce, since Smith’s arrest and alleged beating by the Tulare Police Department on August 25. On that morning, Smith had an altercation with the Tulare Police Department in the parking lot of Feltech Auto Repair. According to Smith and a witness, he was pulled out of his car, handcuffed and beaten. The Tulare Police Department has not been able to give their account of what happened because of possible litigation.

“The incident is being reviewed and we have no further comment,” said Tulare Police Lieutenant Greg Merrill.

On September 10, Merrill came by Smith’s home to have him sign documents. Merrill described the documents to Smith as release forms so Smith could go by the police department and pick up his phones, Smith said.

Smith’s two cell phones were confiscated from him the day of his arrest. Smith told Merrill that he couldn’t sign papers unless his lawyers, John Sarsfield and Maggie Melo, had a chance to review them. According to Koonce, Merrill responded by saying he did not want to talk to attorneys.

During the confrontation with the Tulare Police Department on August 25, Smith recorded the incident on his two cell phones. Smith also believes the police were recording the incident. The police forcibly took Smith’s phones after Smith had been pulled out of his car and was on the ground, he said.

Melo said she believes Merrill was at Smith’s house to obtain a “waiver of a search document” so they could legally view the videos on Smith’s phones. Judges do not issue search warrants in cases that involve misdemeanors, Melo said, so the police would need Smith’s consent to open his phone and watch the videos. Smith was arrested for resisting arrest, which is considered a misdemeanor.

It is Smith’s opinion the police have already watched the videos, he said. While Smith was in the patrol car, after being arrested, he could see five policemen huddled around his phones laughing and joking and assumed that they were watching the recording of the incident, he said.

On September 11, Smith and Koonce had another encounter with the Tulare Police, this one involving Chizum, Smith’s dog, which was tasered and pepper sprayed during Smith’s arrest. Smith and Koonce were staying at the Hampton Inn, a dog-friendly hotel, for about a week while repairs were being done on their kitchen at home. While Smith was outside with Chizum, a security guard leaned down and put his face next to Chizum’s and the dog bit him. The security guard apologized saying that he should have known better than put his face into the face a dog that did not know him, especially since he had worked with guard dogs while in the military.

Nevertheless, Tulare Animal Control was notified to assess the situation. An agreement was made between Smith and Tulare Animal Control that the dog would be kept in quarantine for 22 days at their home. Tulare Animal Control was going to come by Smith’s house the next Monday to check on the dog and the quarantine situation.

Smith and Koonce left the hotel and secured Chizum inside their home. They changed hotels that afternoon to La Quinta Suites. That evening both Smith and Koonce began getting calls from their neighbors. The neighbors reported that five patrol cars were outside their home and that the police were looking inside the windows. Koonce and Smith ran home, where Tulare Animal Control Officer Michael Capote told them that the police had arrived to take Chizum. Koonce explained that everything was arranged earlier that day with a different animal control officer. He said that Chizum was to stay quarantined at their home. Capote told Koonce that he had been misinformed. Capote identified himself as the officer who brought Chizum home after the first police incident on August 25 and that he was just trying to do Koonce and Smith a favor.

In the meantime, the entire neighborhood was outside and on the street recording the incident on their phones.

“I mean everybody,” said Koonce.

Smith and Koonce, who are apparently well-liked throughout the neighborhood, have been supported by their neighbors, who have kept an eye out for them and their home since the incident.

According to Koonce, as the neighbors and their cell phones became more apparent, one by one the patrol cars left until there was only one. After a brief conversation, Capote decided to abide by the original agreement of home quarantine made with animal control and left without the dog. No one from animal control has been back since and Chizum is still at home in quarantine.

A hearing is scheduled for Smith’s case on Thursday, September 24 ,when the Tulare County District Attorney can press charges for resisting arrest or else drop the charges completely.

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