In the News

Quiet Civil Settlement Ends Shooting Ordeal

by David Owens
The Hartford Courant

December 16, 2004

NEW MILFORD — A long and sad saga that started six years ago when a white police officer shot a black suspect at close range has drawn to a quiet close with the $1.6 million settlement of a civil lawsuit.

The case sparked broad interest because of the racial issues it raised, and because former officer Scott Smith was the first police officer in Connecticut to be charged with murder while acting in the line of duty.

The criminal side of the case ended in March, when Smith pleaded no contest to a reduced charge in the death of Franklyn Reid and received a suspended sentence. Smith’s first conviction – on a manslaughter charge – had been overturned on appeal.

The civil side of the case is now over as well.

Under a settlement with the town, Dwight and Pearlylyn Reid, Franklyn’s parents, will receive $800,000. The other half of the settlement will go to Franklyn Reid’s three children, according to documents filed in probate court.

Lawyers involved in the case, citing a confidentiality clause, would not disclose the amount of the settlement or its terms. The case was initially filed in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport.

The News-Times in Danbury reported that the amount became public because notice of the agreement was filed last week in probate court, where Reid’s estate is being handled. Ray Jankowski, New Milford’s finance director, said Wednesday that the settlement will be covered by insurance.

Antonio Ponvert, a Bridgeport lawyer who represented the Reids, said they are glad the case is over.

“I think they are content that the case is resolved,” Ponvert said. “They feel that to the extent the judicial system can provide justice in a case like this, that the system did the best it could.

“Money can never replace Franklyn’s life or anyone’s life. They have another child. They have grandchildren. They will miss Franklyn forever, but they are ready to move past this sad and troubling time and move on with their lives.”

Scott Karsten of West Hartford, who represented Smith, said the former officer has embarked on a new career and is glad to have the last bit of the case behind him.

“It was a tragedy for all the people involved in the case – obviously for Franklyn Reid and for Scott Smith and his family,” Karsten said. “When he became a police officer he never envisioned his career would end that way. In that split second, everybody’s life was altered forever.”

The president of the Greater Waterbury branch of the NAACP, Jimmy Griffin, said he was pleased there was a settlement, but was still bothered by the outcome of the criminal case.

“I think it’s great that there was a settlement. However, I still think that justice was not served in that case, and I know that the family went through a lot of pain and suffering concerning this event,” he said.

Reid, who was wanted by police for failing to appear in court and for probation violations, was shot by Smith at close range in December 1998 after Smith tried to take him into custody following a foot chase. After a state police investigation, Waterbury State’s Attorney John Connelly filed a murder charge against Smith.

The case took on racial overtones because Smith is white and Reid was black, although there was no evidence that race played a role in the shooting.

Smith said he feared that Reid had a weapon and would turn it on him. The officer testified during the first trial that Reid was resisting him and refused to show his hands.

Witnesses said Smith had Reid face down on the ground. Reid’s hands, they said, were outstretched above his head and, later, clasped behind his back. Smith’s left foot was on Reid’s back and the barrel of his pistol was touching Reid’s back when the weapon was fired, they said.

During Smith’s first trial in March 2000, the jury acquitted him on a murder charge, but found him guilty of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm. He was sentenced to six years in prison, but remained free as his conviction was appealed.

The state Appellate Court threw out the conviction in October 2002 after finding that the trial judge improperly excluded testimony about Smith’s training and did not properly instruct the jury on the law regarding self-defense.

In the second trial, Smith would have faced just the charge of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm; if convicted, he would have faced a minimum prison sentence of five years. As the case was about to begin, however, Smith reached a plea agreement with prosecutors.

On March 23, Smith pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of criminally negligent homicide, and also agreed that he will never again seek employment as a police officer – a provision that was key to getting Reid’s family to accept the deal.

Judge Robert C. Brunetti accepted Smith’s plea and sentenced him to a one-year suspended prison term and two years of probation.

An Associated Press wire report is included in this story. Courant Staff Writer Daniel P. Jones contributed to this story.