Gun-Pointing Ohio Arson Investigator Suspended After Road Rage

July 22, 2013
The Columbus arson investigator ordered a fellow motorist out of his car at gunpoint after a road rage incident.

July 20--A Columbus Fire Division arson investigator has been suspended for two weeks and has been stripped of his city-issued firearm for ordering a motorist out of a car at gunpoint in what police called a road-rage incident while he was on duty.

Jeffrey L. Smith, 50, could be allowed to return to the arson unit after serving his suspension, but it is likely he will be reassigned, fire officials said.

"As of now, he remains on administrative duty, and he does not have his gun," said Lee Cole, a spokeswoman for the Fire Division.

Fire Chief Gregory A. Paxton and Mitchell J. Brown, the city's public safety director, ruled Thursday that Smith should be suspended for abusive or violent behavior.

Fire and police officials said Smith and Michael J. Watkins started arguing in January while in separate cars at the intersection of Jack Gibbs Boulevard and Cleveland Avenue, near Columbus State Community College.

Smith said Watkins brandished a gun while inside his car during the argument. Smith said that's when he jumped out of his unmarked city vehicle, drew his weapon and ordered Watkins out of his car.

Smith placed Watkins in handcuffs and then called police. Police found a black pellet gun in Watkins' car, according to a police incident report. Smith was not charged with a crime.

Watkins, 36, pleaded guilty to an aggravated menacing charge, a first-degree misdemeanor, in February. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Smith's supervisor, Capt. Jeff Happ, was also disciplined for not reporting the incident to supervisors for days. Happ didn't report the incident until after news reports about it aired. Happ, 47, agreed to be removed as head of the arson unit and to be placed back on regular duty.

Disciplining Happ and Smith was difficult, fire officials said, because the incident happened while the fire division was developing its first written gun policy outlining how and when arson and bomb-squad investigators may use their weapons.

About a dozen of those investigators carry weapons while on duty.

A policy now says that only firefighters who investigate crimes such as arson may carry guns, and they may use them only during a fire-related incident.

Future incidents like Smith's could result in more-severe punishment, including termination, under the new policy.


Copyright 2013 - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

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