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Clewiston man seeks justice for slain dog
A Clewiston man's dog was shot and killed by Clewiston police officers during an arrest on Jan. 9.

CLEWISTON — As the Clewiston Police Department celebrated a victory in the completion of operation “Dirty Dozen,” which saw more than a dozen alleged drug offenders arrested in a two-day sweep last week, one of the arrested is speaking out against the alleged brutality he says the Clewiston police displayed with him.

William Smith Jr., 35, was arrested on Jan. 8 after Clewiston police officers surrounded his home on E. Sagamore Avenue and witnessed an alleged drug transaction between Smith and an informant sent by officers.

According to Smith’s arrest report, released by the Clewiston Police Department, officers went to Smith’s house based on information provided by an informant. The informant was also arrested on Jan. 8 on felony drug charges, including possession of and sale of opium or an opium derivative within 1,000 feet of a place of worship or business.

The report states that the informant was provided $70 in pre-recorded police narcotics funds and was sent by officers to Smith’s house in order to “obtain controlled substances” from Smith. The report also states that sight and sound was maintained with the informant by a narcotics agent.

When the informant arrived at the house, Smith answered the door. The informant showed Smith the money and asked to buy cocaine. According to the report, Smith called back into his house to his wife, at which time, police officers moved in to take “control of the situation.”

Smith and his wife reportedly gave officers permission to search their home, where officers found cocaine, cutting agents and a small amount of marijuana. The report also states Smith’s wife told officers she and Smith use small amounts of cocaine and marijuana “on a regular basis” and she knows Smith to use a dietary supplement to cut the cocaine powder in order to make a larger amount of product.

Smith was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to sell.

Smith, on the other hand, has a different recollection of the events of Jan. 8.

Speaking with The Clewiston News two days after his arrest, Smith told a harrowing story of how Clewiston police officers allegedly came onto his property without permission, held a gun to his wife’s head in order to coerce a search of his home, and shot his dog, Bear, to death.

Standing just outside his home, a picture of Smith’s dog memorializes the friend and companion Smith said the entire neighborhood knew and loved.

“My wife can’t have kids, so [Bear] was sentimental for us,” said Smith.

According to Smith, he answered a knock on the door that night and found the informant standing on his door step. Smith said he knew the informant because the informant was an acquaintance of his wife. Smith also said the informant did not ask for drugs at first.

“If y’all [the police] had audio on him, you [they] would have known he didn’t ask me for drugs, he asked me for a cigarette,” said Smith.

It wasn’t until Smith came back outside a second time and found the informant still on his doorstep that Smith said the informant muttered something under his breath about drugs.

Lieutenant Rowan, of the Clewiston Police Department, acknowledged that the police moved in on Smith’s house because they believed a drug transaction had occurred, though they were mistaken.

Despite the failed drug transaction, officers surrounded Smith’s home and ordered him onto the ground, said Smith. According to Lt. Rowan, however, Smith failed to comply with officers’ orders and that is where the situation took an aggressive turn.

Smith’s dog was behind a fence in the backyard, barking at the officers, including a police canine, which was on the other side of the fence in the neighbor’s yard, according to Smith.

Lt. Rowan said Smith’s own aggression led to the aggression of the dog and the need to use force. Smith was reportedly uncooperative while officers tried to restrain him on the ground outside his home.

Smith admitted that he “blacked out” during the time he was on the ground -- the same time Bear was allegedly barking at the officers. A fresh bullet hole stood out in the ground next to where Smith was reportedly resisting his arrest.

Lt. Rowan said Bear snapped at one of the officers while Smith was “physically resisting arrest” and “nearly bit the face of one officer.”

Smith said he and his wife begged officers to allow them to put Bear inside the house, however, officers would not let them.

Bear was next to the neighbor’s yard where the canine officer was allegedly standing when he was shot; the pile of blood and dead tissue still lay on the ground near the fence two days later, with a bullet casing resting inches away from the debris.

Smith said he wants to “seek justice” for his dog and bring to light the alleged brutality he faced by the police.

“It’s time to get the word out about police brutality. If you’re going to do operations and drug busts, do it the right way,” said Smith.

According to Smith, police officers showed up at his house with no probable cause and without a warrant. Smith said officers used their guns to intimidate his wife into allowing officers to search their home.

“They put a gun to my wife’s head,” said Smith.

When officers finished searching his home, Smith said they only found a small bag with residue in it, as well as a blade Smith’s wife uses to break up a diet pill.

Lt. Rowan, however, said officers found several small bags filled with a white powder in Smith’s home.

The white powder reportedly tested positive for cocaine and Lt. Rowan said there were pictures taken of the bags inside Smith’s home, which are now in evidence.

Though Smith is angry about how the events unfolded leading to his arrest and drug charges, Smith is more concerned about seeking justice for his slain dog.

Smith and his wife held a small memorial for Bear on Jan. 10 at 5:30 p.m. outside their home, attended by friends and neighbors.

“He’s going to be remembered,” said Smith. “I’ll make sure he is.”

Lt. Rowan said officers had a responsibility to protect the safety of those in the area and, therefore, a “use of force” was necessary.

“I’m sorry about his dog, I really am,” said Lt. Rowan.

Staff writer Melissa Beltz can be reached at 863-983-9148 or mbeltz@newszap.com.