Ex-Oklahoma officer convicted in sexual assault is the first to face tougher new penalty, DOJ says

The Associated Press - March 9, 2024 7:56 am

By LINDSAY WHITEHURST Associated Press

(AP) — A former Oklahoma police officer convicted in the sexual assault of a woman during a traffic stop will become the first to face a heftier penalty under the 2022 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, the Justice Department said.

Jeffrey Scott Smith, Jr., 35, is facing up to 40 years in prison after a jury found him guilty this week of a civil rights violation involving sexual assault, top Justice officials said. Smith’s exact sentence will be determined by a judge at a future hearing.

Prosecutors said Smith was on his first solo shift as a police officer in the small Oklahoma town of Savanna when he pulled over the woman and her then-boyfriend in November 2022. He issued the man a speeding ticket, but then began asking personal questions and turned off his body camera, prosecutors said. He put the woman in his patrol car after discovering a promotional marijuana cigarette from the gentleman’s club where she worked. He sexually assaulted her in his patrol car after deactivating the dashboard camera, prosecutors said.

Defense attorney John Cannon said Smith respects the jury’s verdict but maintains his innocence.

The case sends an “unequivocal warning” that people who abuse authority through sexual assault will be held accountable, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said. “This may be the first time we have used the new enhanced penalties for civil rights violations involving sexual assault, but it will not be the last,” she said.

The previous maximum penalty for the civil rights count was 10 years. Smith also faces up to 20 years on two obstruction of justice counts linked to turning off the cameras.

“Sexual assaults perpetrated by police officers are heinous crimes and a disgraceful breach of the public trust in law enforcement,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. She applauded the woman for coming forward to report the abuse and to testify at trial.

 

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