Leader Blues

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

TOP STORY > >Violent end brings pall over quiet subdivision

By JONATHAN FELDMAN AND GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader staff writers

Jacksonville police said Tuesday they had no choice but to fatally shoot a man with a history of mental illness who started spraying bullets at police and neighbors in the quiet subdivision of Foxwood in Jacksonville on Monday.

The shooter, identified as Steven Smith, 44, of 200 Foxwood Drive, held off police for approximately five hours with what a neighbor described as an AK 47 military rifle with a long banana clip and numerous rounds, while he was holed up at his parents’ home.

The man refused to surrender and was killed by police a little after 7 p.m. Monday.

“It was an unfortunate situation that could not be avoided,” Police Chief Gary Sipes said about the fatal shootout.

He said his department has “a couple of officers trained in hostage negotiation. They made contact with him several times.

They got on a bull horn.”

Police also communicated with him by a cell phone they had passed on to Smith. Officers had hoped Smith would surrender, but when he came out of the house shooting as darkness approached, the deadly outcome was inevitable.

Smith exchanged fire with dozens of officers throughout the afternoon and into the evening.

“It was a defensive situation,” the chief continued. “He came outside armed, and out of necessity and safety of our officers,” he said his men had to take aim at Smith.

Capt. Charles Jenkins, a police department spokesman, said at a press conference on Tuesday, “Yesterday, we had to bring our training to bear.”

“We handled the situation the best that could be expected,” said Jenkins. He said the shooter was the only person in the house when he was shot.

He had earlier beaten his father, Walter Smith, who got out of the house before police were called. The father went to the home of a neighbor, who called 911.

“The father was treated and released. He suffered injuries from being in a physical altercation and not with gunfire,” Jenkins said.

The shooter’s father was described by neighbors as a retired airman who once owned a convenience store in Jacksonville.

Police say they were called to Smith’s home to investigate a neighbor’s complaint of someone shooting bottle rockets and cursing. Numerous cars and homes on Fox Glenn Street, which adjoins Foxwood Drive, are now riddled by bullets. Shattered windows, windshields, bullet-sprayed cars and trucks were visible on Tuesday morning.

“I came home with my granddaughter and I heard the shots. I thought it was firecrackers at first,” said Betty Stevens, who lives on Fox Glenn Street and remembered Smith as quiet and friendly with a disheveled appearance.

Moments later, police cars had swarmed the block and Stevens realized that this was much more serious than firecrackers. The semi-automatic rifle fire could be heard from the corner of Madden Road and Northeastern Street at one of the police blockades in the area. A man mowing the lawn at St. Stephens Episcopal Church said that he heard 30 or 40 shots just before 3 p.m. Monday.

Several Foxwood residents described Smith as a quiet man who stopped to chat with them during his frequent walks in the neighborhood.

In interviews, Smith’s neighbors said he lived with his parents for the past several years after suffering brain damage from a head-on collision while he was driving an ice-cream truck for a company owned by his older brother. After the accident, Smith’s personality had changed dramatically, neighbors said. He communicated slowly and seemed distant.

Alan Simmons, a resident of Fox Glenn since 1978 and a high school classmate of Smith’s, said the shooter never “mentioned any interest in using guns.”

“He would come by and offer to mow the lawn or ask to borrow tools,” Simmons said.

“We were in the house when the first shots were fired. They came so fast that it sounded like metal being crushed,” Simmons said.

Simmons went to his front yard and saw Smith shooting at an empty police car. Simmons later saw officers behind trees as they traded shots with the man he had known most of his life. “Friday was the last time I saw (Smith). He was always friendly. His parents are very nice. They are not a threat to anyone,” Linda Simmons said.

Smith would occasionally ask how Simmons and his family were doing. His behavior was that of a cordial neighbor.

Three officers were hit by Smith’s bullets, but according to Jenkins, none of their injuries are life threatening. Jenkins thanked the Arkansas State Police, the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, the Sherwood Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for assisting in the investigation.

Jeffrey Smith of The Leader contributed to this report.