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March 22nd, 2009 by Temple City Tribune
How Cleaning Up Dog Waste Landed a Sierra Madre Businessman in Jail – Bail for Offense: $30K
It was business as usual, or so it seemed for the tall, athletic Tom Smock, 67, on January 31, 2009. It was 10:30 a.m. or thereabouts when Tom noticed someone did not have the common courtesy to clean up after his or her dog had defecated directly outside his Four Seasons Tea Room in Sierra Madre.
Naturally, Smock wanted to clean up the mess before his mid-morning rush, which is usually around 11 a.m., and especially heavy on Saturdays.
What transpired over the next couple of hours and days can, at best, be described as a bad Hollywood screenplay which was a real nightmare for the protagonist or at worst, a serious lack of judgment by someone in authority in Sierra Madre Police Dept.
In fairness to the city, Smock has been issued watering warnings, and there is standing city ordinance prohibiting watering sidewalks.
But this time was different. According to Smock, the doggie deposit was a health risk and needed to be taken care of immediately, and scrubbing and cleaning with water was the only way he saw fit.
Someone alerted Sierra Madre code enforcement officer, Lisa Vople, of a possible violation at the Four Seasons Tea Room. Soon thereafter, officer Volpe arrived on scene and proceeded to photograph Smock’s every move with a small digital camera in video mode.
Feeling somewhat intimidated by the code enforcement officer’s actions, Smock, shovel in one hand and hose in the other, proceeded to offer Lisa Volpe a smell of the incriminating and less than palatable evidence he was attempting to remove from his Tea Room business right of way.
Placing the shovel near Lisa, albeit several feet away, was enough for her to ask Smock if he was trying to assault her. That was when a stunned Smock realized the situation is getting out of hand.
Smock categorically denies any threats, though he does admit becoming angry at what appeared to be an escalating situation. After all, he was just trying to clean the sidewalk of some dog poop. A federal case this is not.
However, what transpired in the next few hours is not fiction but hard reality of life on the streets of Sierra Madre.
The code enforcement officer decided that she needed back up and called for police officers to assist. One senior and one younger officer immediately responded.
After a few words with all parties involved, officers asked Smock to come to the police station to make a full report. He said he would be happy to do so after the business day was over. Officers apparently then demanded that he accompany them immediately and forcibly handcuffed the 67 year old man in front of his business as guests were having their afternoon tea.
His business partner Rosa Jaime couldn’t believe what she was witnessing. “It was so humiliating,” said Jaime. “Tom was handcuffed right in front of the restaurant and [his arrest] was seen by numerous customers in the Tea Room.”
According to Smock, without reading him his Miranda rights, one officer placed the handcuffs “quite forcibly” behind his back and according to Smock, was placed in the black and white cruiser rather roughly.
This highly respected Sierra Madre businessman was now under arrest and on his way to the Sierra Madre Police Station.
Still not told what he was charged with or read his Miranda rights, Smock was questioned by the officers, one of whom was Officer John Ford, who informed Smock that he was in serious trouble and being charged with felony assault.
Smock was then thrown in one of two small holding cells at the Sierra Madre PD, yet again, without being Mirandized. They removed his shoes and placed him in cell number two, this being where he was finally read his rights.
From the Tea Room, Rosa called the Police Dept. to find out when her partner would be released, they informed her that 45 minutes probably would be a good estimate.
Meanwhile back in jail, Smock was demanding to speak to Chief Marilyn Diaz after the officers informed him that they had probable cause to arrest him for felony assault.
“This has gone too far,” asserted Smock. He was being charged, according the records, of “assault with a shovel.”
Next stop, Pasadena City Jail.
Once Smock arrived at Pasadena PD. he was formally booked and fingerprinted, along with all the bells and whistles that go with an arrest. He was finally allowed to make phone calls, several in fact, once Pasadena Police realized they weren’t dealing with Al Capone or Bin Laden.
Smock said he finally felt that he was getting the respect he felt he had been denied while visiting his own city jailors in Sierra Madre.
Smock said the treatment he received once in the hands of Pasadena police officers vastly differed from that of the Sierra Madre police.
Nevertheless, the charges were apparently serious enough to warrant a $30,000 bail, and Smock would spend the next two nights in the slammer.
After a friend bailed him out Monday morning, the fun was just beginning. Having little or no paperwork, not knowing the disposition of his case, Smock went to the Superior Court in Pasadena seeking some clarification of what exactly was going on and what he was being charged with. There was little, it seemed, in the way of paperwork from the Sierra Madre PD.
Having never been in such a predicament, Smock sought legal advice and ultimately hired Arcadia attorney Richard Hutton.
After several conversations with the courthouse and the District Attorney, Smock discovered that his charges were suddenly reduced from a felony assault to a misdemeanor.
Still in a bit of a daze, Smock was unsure of his court dates and what he should do.
Finally, after a rather long, unexpected ride on the legal merry-go-round, Smock and his lawyer discovered that his pretrial hearing is now slated for April 28.
This mild mannered businessman, who has a heretofore virginal police record, is now out on $30,000 bail, for a misdemeanor. Still, without official exact wording of the charges against him.
Bearing no ill will for the city of Sierra Madre, its police force or code enforcement officer, Tom Smock asserts that he was unjustly arrested and that there was abuse of power on behalf of the Sierra Madre Police Dept. “There two different issues here:” Says Smock, “misrepresentation and abuse of power”
To add insult to an already rather serious injury, the court also issued a restraining order on Smock to stay away from Code Enforcement Officer Lisa Volpe.
This could prevent Smock from attending many public meetings in Sierra Madre where the code enforcement officer might likely be in attendance.
As a result of Smock’s arrest by the Sierra Madre Police, a doctor was called in to evaluate the bruises and other evidence that Smock says proves the police may have acted inappropriately.
For the time being, Smock is happy to be over some of this larger-than-life judicial journey but knows the legal road ahead will be both costly and time consuming.
As of press time, officials at the Sierra Madre Police Dept. had failed to respond to repeated requests for comment on the incident.
BY TERRY MILLER