Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

7th Circuit Wants More Jail Time for Abusive Cop

CHICAGO (CN) - A police officer convicted of using excessive force on at least two unresisting arrestees deserves to serve more than 14 months in prison, the Seventh Circuit ruled.

In September 2012, officer Terry Joe Smith set out in pursuit of Cletis Warren, a known criminal with an outstanding arrest warrant.

When police caught up with Warren's truck and boxed him in, Warren got out of the driver's seat, climbed into the bed of his truck, and lay down on his back.

Several officers picked him up and handed him to officers on the ground.

They later testified that Warren was not resisting arrest when suddenly Smith punched Warren in the face, making a sound that two officers described as that of "a tomato hitting a concrete wall."

Smith was overheard bragging, "I guarantee I broke that mother fucker's nose."

Several months later, Smith and another officer were dispatched to a call about a domestic dispute turned violent.

Smith handcuffed the man involved in the dispute, Jeffrey Land, and as he led him to the patrol car, drove his knee into Land's back so hard Land defecated on himself.

He again bragged about his use of violence, telling the other officer that it was not the first time he had made someone defecate.

Both victims testified at Smith's trial, as did Smith's fellow officers, on charges of excessive force brought by the government.

Smith was convicted in a five-day jury trial, but sentenced to only 14 months in prison - less than half the time recommended under sentencing guidelines.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed Smith's conviction, but vacated his sentence, questioning the light prison term.

"Apart from the judge's reference to anger management and comments on Smith's minor good works in the community, no reason for the light sentence he imposed can be found in the transcript of the sentencing hearing," U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner said, writing for the three-judge panel.

Posner cited several other cases in which police officers had been sentenced for crimes similar to Smith's. These defendants were given sentences from 27 months to 188 months in prison.

Although some of these crimes involved greater brutality, Posner questioned, "Were Smith's crimes so slight a fraction of theirs? Does the judge's review of these cases provide any basis for thinking 14 months a proper sentence for Smith?" (Emphasis in original.)

The Chicago-based appeals panel remanded the case to allow the sentencing judge to give "cogent reasons for rejecting the thinking of the Sentencing Commission."

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.