family dog unfolds on videotape
By LEON ALLIGOOD
Review finds officers acted properly in stopping
Three minutes and seven seconds tells the story of a dog named
The dog, which was shot at close range Jan. 1 by a Cookeville
policeman during a felony traffic stop, belonged to the James Smoak
family of Saluda, N.C. At the time, the Tennessee Highway Patrol
suspected the Smoaks — James, his wife, Pamela, and his stepson,
Brandon Hayden — were involved in a Nashville-area robbery.
Yesterday, the Tennessee Highway Patrol acknowledged there was no
robbery, just a calamitous mix-up in communications between
dispatchers working for two separate patrol offices. This failure to
communicate led to the shooting of the Smoaks' dog, an incident that
was preserved on videotape by a dashboard camera in a patrol
Even so, the THP officers did not act inappropriately by making
the felony stop, according to an internal investigation.
''Our investigation has found that our troopers on the scene that
night — Trooper David Bush, Trooper Jerry Phann and Lt. Jerry
Andrews — did have probable cause to conduct what in police terms is
called a 'felony stop' of a motorist,'' said Beth Tucker Womack,
spokeswoman for the Department of Safety. The THP is part of the
A felony stop is ordered when the occupants of a car are thought
to have been involved in a crime.
Likewise, the Cookeville Police Department's internal
investigation determined that its officers, who were providing
backup for the troopers, ''performed their duties according to
training and policy,'' said department spokesman Capt. Nathan
As for the shooting of the family pet, Officer Eric Hall said the
dog was coming at him aggressively when he fired.
The animal ''singled me out from the other officers and charged
toward me growling in an aggressive manner,'' Hall wrote in his
incident report, which was included in documents released
Officers called the dog a pit bull that made a tense scene even
more tense. Last week, the Smoak family called the dog a mixed-breed
bulldog that was as gentle as ''Scooby Doo.''
Yesterday, the videotape of the stop was released for the public
The action begins as the Smoaks' car is pulled over in Putnam
County. A green sign pointing to the Algood exit is seen in the
frame just ahead of the family's stopped station wagon.
Tractor-trailers and cars whiz by in the flash of the cruiser's blue
Thirty-eight seconds into the stop, State Trooper David Bush
calls the driver out of the car.
One minute and 30 seconds after their car was pulled over, Pamela
Smoak and her son, 17-year-old Brandon, are ordered out of the car.
By 2 minutes, all three of the Smoaks are kneeling on the ground,
being handcuffed as the Cookeville officers, in their role as backup
protection, train their shotguns on the three.
At 2:18, James Smoak asks: ''What did I do?'' He is suspected in
an area robbery, Bush replies.
Seconds later the North Carolina man tells officers that dogs are
in the car. A beat later Smoak tells the troopers again that dogs
are in the car.
Until 3:05 into the tape, the felony stop is textbook. The
suspects are handcuffed and contained.
But then Patton appears.
The light-colored canine bounds from the passenger side door,
travels outside the camera's right view for a second and then
reappears, following Cookeville Officer Hall, who is backing up with
his shotgun trained on the dog.
At 3:07, Hall fires. The dog falls and rolls over, dead. Each of
the Smoaks cries out in anguish as their pet lies bleeding just a
few feet from where they are handcuffed. ''Why'd you shoot my dog?
Why'd you shoot my dog?'' James Smoak can be heard crying
How this unfortunate event came to pass is what the top brass of
the Department of Safety and the Cookeville Police Department
gathered to explain yesterday afternoon during a news
According to Womack, the incident began when a woman traveling
east on I-40 called the Nashville THP dispatcher at 4:52 p.m. She
reported that she had been passed by a green station wagon traveling
at a high rate of speed. The woman said an amount of money had been
thrown out the window.
As all involved later found out, Smoak had left his wallet on top
of his car when he bought gas on Old Hickory Boulevard in Hermitage.
Apparently, the wallet stayed on the car until it passed the Mt.
Juliet exit, at which point it fell, scattering more than $400 in
small bills over the interstate median. Troopers recovered the cash
and returned it to Smoak.
But, at the time the wallet fell off the car, the alert cell
phone user was suspicious of the cash and the green car. She called
the highway patrol.
Dispatcher Shannon Pickard of the Nashville office told
investigators the woman believed the out-of-state car had ''been up
to something.'' His statement was provided to reporters
According to Womack, Pickard issued a bulletin at 5 p.m. to all
Middle Tennessee law enforcement agencies to inquire whether any
robberies had occurred involving a green station wagon with
out-of-state tags. No replies fitting the description were
In Cookeville, THP dispatcher Timothy Glenn McHood issued a BOLO
notice, which means ''be on the lookout,'' to the troopers in his
area. In an interview with THP investigators, McHood said he noted
that the green station wagon ''could possibly'' have been involved
in a robbery.
At 5:07 p.m., the THP report noted, Trooper Bush spotted the
According to Womack, this incident has led to an examination of
the department's radio room procedures, particularly as to
documentation. Some of the messages between Nashville and Cookeville
cannot be substantiated because the operators communicated using a
phone that is not recorded.
Meanwhile, the Cookeville Police Department has instigated a
third-party examination of the situation. A police chief in
Gaithersburg, Md., will conduct an independent investigation.
Officer Hall has been reassigned to an administrative position
pending the outcome of that investigation.
The Smoaks, contacted at their home, offered no comment on the
tape or on THP's ruling, but said they were in the process of hiring
a lawyer to represent them in possible litigation.