Smith, a reserve police officer and son of SMPD Assistant Chief Nary Smith, was fired by Police Chief Paula Smith (no relation) amid allegations that it took over half an hour to answer the call and that he was slovenly and indifferent once he arrived.
Smith told the Teche News that those allegations are accurate and that he probably deserves a reprimand. Smith said, however, that he does not deserve to be fired because of extenuating circumstances – not the least of which was that nobody told him there was a man with a gun in the complainant’s house.
Nor did anyone tell the officers combing a field for a suspected killer only a few hundred yards away.
Catherine Berard, the SMPD dispatcher on duty at the time, has been suspended for fiver days after an internal investigation into the department’s actions the morning Labrandis Collins was dragged from her Cypress Gardens apartment and shot to death in the field out back.
Smith was getting dressed for work when Berard called and left a message for him. When he called back, she told him to see the resident at 207 Willis Dr. about a break-in. She did not, Smith insists, mention anything about an armed intruder.
Smith, who lives just across the
Cypress Island Highway in the Chateau Martin, drove his mother to work at Cajun Chef, picked up his patrol car at the police department, and arrived on the scene about half an hour after the resident, Brook Theriot, called 911.
Smith told the internal affairs investigator, Detective Jeff Farmer, that he initially didn’t believe Theriot’s story about an early-morning intruder. It had been raining and there was no mud on the floor, for one thing. And Theriot seemed especially interested in getting a police report on the incident for his landlord.
“We get a lot of calls like that,” Smith told the newspaper. “Things happen, things get broken. Insurance companies pay quicker when there’s a police report (accounting for the damage).”
It wasn’t until Theriot mentioned the man with the gun, relatively late in the discussion, that Smith’s began to relate the call to the ongoing search for Collins.
Berard, who is the wife of the city’s planning and zoning administrator, Shedrick Berard, had apparently not made that connection. She did not alert the officers who were already in the area on the shooting call, and there reportedly was an off-duty officer, Jimmy Lyons, in the station who could have been dispatched when Smith didn’t immediately answer his phone.
Moreover, Theriot told police that when he called to report the break-in – with the intruder still in the hallway with a pistol, threatening to shoot him – Berard put him on hold.
There are reportedly other complaints about Berard from other officers, both before and after this incident. Councilman Craig Prosper demanded copies of the written complaints and an explanation from Chief Paula Smith of how the complaints were investigated the conclusions reached. The Dec. 6 deadline for the information passed without public comment from either the chief or city officials.
Berard, contacted by phone at home, declined to comment on this story.
Collins eluded capture for over three weeks, and escaped for 36 hours in October before being recaptured. He has been indicted on first-degree murder by a St. Martin Parish grand jury.
Meanwhile, Smith has hired a lawyer to help him get his job back. He says it’s unfair that he was fired while the dispatcher who put his life in danger by not alerting him to the possibility of encountering an armed intruder received over a five-day suspension.