Dearborn police officer in court for groping charge

Photo by Zeinab Najm. Gregory Rohl (second from left), attorney for Dearborn Police Officer Justin Smith (right), presents arguments while prosecuting attorney Danielle Hagaman-Clark listens during Smith’s preliminary examination Sept. 16 in 19th District Court.

Photo by Zeinab Najm. Gregory Rohl (second from left), attorney for Dearborn Police Officer Justin Smith (right), presents arguments while prosecuting attorney Danielle Hagaman-Clark listens during Smith’s preliminary examination Sept. 16 in 19th District Court.

By ZEINAB NAJM
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Police Officer Justin Smith, 36, appeared in court for a preliminary examination on charges of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and common law offenses after allegedly groping a woman.

During the exam that took placed in 19th District Court before Judge William Hultgren, the 32-year-old victim testified she met Smith in 2012 and became friends.

The victim, who works at a local restaurant, testified there had been no prior issues with Smith and that he helped her in regard to a situation involving her daughter.

She said the alleged incident with Smith occurred on May 2 when she was driving home just after 10 p.m. from her boyfriend’s house. Her boyfriend also is a police officer with the city.

She testified that as she drove on Telegraph Road near Michigan Avenue, a marked police vehicle pulled her over about 10:20 p.m. prompting her to retrieve her wallet for information. She said she noticed it was Smith as soon as he got out of the vehicle and approached her driver’s side window.

The victim testified that with the window rolled down, Smith reached in and groped her left breast with his left hand and went on with his business. She said he didn’t say anything to her, walked to his vehicle and drove off.

The victim said she was shocked and upset as she continued to drive home after the incident. She then called her boyfriend.

“I didn’t tell my boyfriend because I was scared and didn’t want him to get mad or start anything,” she said testified.

The victim said she told her boyfriend about the incident three weeks later during a conversation about past events they each had.

At the exam, when asked if she flirted with other customers during her time as a waitress at the restaurant, the victim said she had. She testified she talked about general sexual activity, but not specific details about it in conversations with Smith.

Lt. Gary Mann investigated the case after he was called by a commander regarding the alleged incident.

Mann and a Police Department corporal contacted the victim at her house. Both testified they were able to get information from her phone in connection with the incident.

They testified two text messages were exchanged between Smith and the victim hours after the alleged groping, but no phone calls were made.

The defense said the victim also deactivated her Facebook page as soon as Smith was charged, possibly hiding evidence.

During the exam, Mann explained that each officer has a flash drive that is plugged in the computer of the patrol vehicle before driving which records all activity during routes.

Video and audio are automatically recorded in background mode and then triggered into full mode when lights are turned on or breaks are pressed, among other reasons.

Mann testified that video from Smith’s vehicle at the time of the alleged incident had no audio. Mann said that when the system is in full mode audio, the video should be on unless it is manually turned off.

Dash camera footage played during the exam by the prosecutor revealed no audio. The video showed Smith approaching the vehicle from the driver side before reaching his arm inside the window.

Since Smith and the victim had a prior relationship, the defense asked if it was common practice to turn off audio when pulling over friends or family. Mann said it was common for police to do so.

A probable cause hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 30 in 19th District Court.

Smith is free a $10,000 personal bond.

(Zeinab Najm can be reached at zeinabnajm92@gmail.com.)

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