Every single seat was occupied in Courtroom 5C at the Silvertooth Judicial Center. Most of them were filled with police officers and sheriff’s deputies there to support a fellow officer.
Thirty officers packed the room July 18 — so many, in fact, that six of them had to sit in the jury box. Among them were Police Chief Mikel Hollaway and two captains on his senior staff.
Officer Kelvin Williams, of the Sarasota Police Department, had enlisted their help during a sentencing hearing to show the judge that they were unified against a proposed settlement in a case in which he was a victim.
The 15-year police department veteran was on routine patrol Dec. 22, in North Sarasota, when he came across a young man riding a motorcycle that had been reported stolen.
Williams, 42, stopped Raheem Smith, who was 18 at the time, and as the officer tried to handcuff Smith, a fight ensued.
“We ended up on the police car and on the ground,” said Williams. “I grabbed his jacket, and he came around with his elbow and struck me in the left temple.”
The blow was hard enough to shake up Williams, so that Smith was able to briefly escape. He was later captured.
It wasn’t until several days later, when Hollaway urged Williams to see a doctor, that he learned what the effect of the elbow to the head had been.
“The doctor said, ‘You have a broken face,’” Williams said. “Sixty-five percent of the optical floor was destroyed. The inside of my face was dropping down.”
Williams had to have two surgeries and was out of work for four months.
“I have a titanium plate in my face to hold up my eye,” he said. “I’ll have it for the rest of my life. I’m still completely numb on the left side of my face.”
The original charge against Smith for that crime was aggravated battery on a law-enforcement officer. He faced up to 15 years in prison.
But unbeknown to Williams, prosecutors agreed to a plea deal to reduce the charge to battery on a law-enforcement officer and give Smith five years in prison.
Williams was incensed.
“I’d like to know that when we get hurt on this job that people are held accountable,” he told Judge Rochelle Curley. “Enough is enough.”
Assistant State Attorney Kate Wallace has taken over the prosecution and consulted with Williams. She changed the sentencing request to the maximum of 15 years.
“I want him to get the maximum for the crime,” said Williams.
Smith’s family members told the judge that the young man is a kind human being, who just made a bad mistake.
“I think it’s sad all these police are trying to take my son away,” said Larry Pace, Smith’s father. “I’ve seen a big change in Raheem. A long prison sentence is just going to create another monster.”
When Smith’s mother took the witness stand and cried as she apologized to Williams, Smith himself broke down.
“I’m sorry this happened to you Officer Williams,” she said. “I beg you to accept my apology.”
Then, with the eyes of 30 law officers upon him, Smith read a statement.
“I want to apologize for everything that happened,” he said. “I’m going to change.”
Williams was not swayed.
“After doing this job for 15 years, you hear from parents all the time apologizing after the fact,” he said. “Of course you learn how to change in jail.”
The sentencing hearing is not expected to conclude until August, when Curley will render her decision.
In the meantime, Williams is thankful so many fellow officers showed their support.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” he said.
Contact Robin Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org.