SACRAMENTO CALIFORNIA – The Twin Rivers Unified School District officer arrested Thursday on four misdemeanor counts of assaulting detainees has two convictions for driving under the influence, including as recently as 2005 when his blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit.
Branche Smith, 37, was released Thursday on his own recognizance, and is scheduled to appear on the assault charges at an arraignment July 10. He faces up to four years in jail and a fine of $10,000 if found guilty on all four counts.
“We look forward to fighting them and putting on a vigorous defense,” said Christopher Miller, Smith’s attorney.
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The Twin Rivers District Police Department works to change their image.
firstname.lastname@example.org – File: Corporal Branche Smith with the Twin Rivers District Police Department places crystal meth and other evidence on his police cruiser after removing it from the recreational vehicle, right. The driver of the RV – who was arrested – was parked adjacent to Kohler Elementary School for an extended period of time raising suspension from observers.
In response to Smith’s previous DUI convictions, Miller said Smith paid penalties and served his probation.
“He was hired as a Twin Rivers officer with the district having full knowledge of those charges,” Miller said.
In 2005, Smith pleaded no contest to drunken driven charges in which he had a 0.21 blood-alcohol level. The legal limit is 0.08. Smith had pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in 1997 with a blood-alcohol level of 0.19.
Earlier this month, Smith filed a tort claim against Twin Rivers Unified, in which he said he was subjected to hours of interrogation by the Sacramento Police Department about the allegations of excessive force, despite the expiration of a one-year statute of limitations for a public employer to investigate and propose discipline on an officer.
“The Twin Rivers Police Department was aware of these allegations when they occurred back in September 2010 and May 2011,” Miller said. “They elected not to investigate those allegations.”
In the tort claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, Smith said he was placed on leave one day before he was subpoenaed to appear before a Sacramento County grand jury and that he has been retaliated against for being black.
The embattled Twin Rivers Police Department has been making sweeping changes following intense scrutiny over the past eight months. The department and the school district are the subject of a grand jury investigation, the results of which will be released next week.
“For the size of the Police Department, I get more calls about them than any similarly sized department,” said attorney Stewart Katz, who is well-known for his lawsuits against law enforcement for use-of-force issues.
Katz represents Lawonda Bailey, who is suing the Twin Rivers school district and district police Officer Jason Smith over allegations that Smith used excessive force following a traffic stop. Officer Jason Smith is not related to Officer Branche Smith.
The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office filed charges Thursday against Branche Smith, accusing him of choking Demonte Kelly, then 18, and Andrew Latshaw, then 21, and threatening Austin Westall, then 20, with a stun gun.
The men were detained with two others at the Twin Rivers Police Department pre-booking facility about 3 p.m. Sept. 17, 2010, according to court documents.
The five subjects were arrested on Longdale Drive as suspects in various crimes, including obstructing an officer, assaulting an officer, conspiracy, inciting a riot and resisting arrest.
No charges were filed against Kelly, Latshaw or Westall, according to online court records.
Acting Twin Rivers Police Chief Scott LaCosse said Smith was not at the scene during the incident that led to the five subjects being arrested. Smith entered the pre-booking facility later while the subjects were being detained, LaCosse said.
A case summary filed in court documents indicate there were numerous Twin Rivers police officers in pre-booking when Smith entered the room. An officer digitally recorded the events.
The case summary said the accounts of the detained subjects and police officers who witnessed the incidents are consistent in saying that Smith choked Kelly and Latshaw while they were handcuffed and threatened Westall by holding a Taser inches from the suspect’s chest.
In a separate incident May 30, 2011, Smith is accused of kicking Jacob Paul, then 25, in the head while the subject was on the floor at the Sacramento County jail.
Smith originally arrested Paul, a parolee-at-large, after Paul ran when Smith stopped to talk to him, according to the case summary against Smith.
Paul told investigators that Smith pulled over on the side of the freeway and choked him for moving too much in the back seat of the patrol car.
While at the county jail, Smith allegedly entered Paul’s cell and slammed the inmate’s head into a wall. Smith said Paul was resisting, according to court documents.
After entering the cell, a deputy said, “Officer Smith ‘booted’ Paul in the face as Officer Smith walked out the cell.”