Detectives Chad Allen and Billy Jenkins had already returned to work about a month after the shooting following an internal review by the Hugo Police Department. But District 17 District Attorney Mark Matloff, whose district includes Hugo, had not officially ruled on the shooting.
Asked in December by The Frontier if he had issued a ruling on the shooting or if he had plans to do so, Matloff’s office responded in an email by saying that he would not comment on the case.
But Hugo Police Chief John Mitchell told The Frontier this week that he called Matloff personally in either January or February to ask about the officers, and Matloff told him that he was not pursuing charges against either detective.
Last April, while investigating the robbery of a local pizza restaurant, the detectives had zeroed in on William Devaughn Smith, 22, as a person of interest. About two weeks after the robbery, the detectives, in plain clothes and driving an unmarked vehicle, saw a truck being driven by Smith and began to follow it.
According to a city of Hugo release from last year, Smith’s vehicle traveled to the Washington Community Center parking lot, where it stopped. The detectives exited their vehicle and began approaching Smith’s pickup “hoping to make consensual contact with the driver.”
Hugo Mayor Richard Higginbotham said at the time that a passenger in the vehicle, Olivia Hill, exited the Smith’s pickup. Hill is the mother of all four children who were inside the vehicle.
Smith then allegedly put his vehicle in reverse and “accelerated rapidly backwards, striking one of the detectives,” according to Higginbotham.
Both detectives fired multiple shots at the pickup “to protect themselves,” Higginbotham said.
“Prior to the shooting, neither of the detectives saw any children in the suspect vehicle,” he said. “Only after the detectives approached the car (following the shooting) and looked inside did they discover the four children in the backseat.
Three of the children, along with Smith, had been shot. The children who were shot, ages 1, 4, and 5, survived, as did Smith, who was later arrested and charged with robbery with a weapon. The other child who was in the vehicle at the time of the shooting was not injured.
Local attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who represented the family last year in the aftermath of the shooting, told The Frontier in December that the children were recuperating but had “a long way to go.”
One of the children had a bullet removed from her brain, Solomon-Simmons said last year. The others often asked if they were going to be “shot again.”
The family had moved away from the area, he said.
Solomon-Simmons did not return phone calls by The Frontier asking about the decision not to charge the officers.
It’s unclear why the decision to rule the shooting as justified took nearly a year. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which was asked by the Hugo Police Department to look at the shooting, wrapped up its case last summer.
Matloff, who spoke briefly to The Frontier earlier this week, said that he “didn’t do a press release” and didn’t write a clearance letter for the detectives.
“I talked to (chief Mitchell) directly and said they’ve been cleared and I’m not filing charges or anything like that,” Matloff said. He said he did not remember the date he cleared the officers and since he did not issue a clearance letter to the police department, he couldn’t look up when his decision had been made.
Mitchell said that although the two detectives had returned to work not long after the shooting, it was difficult on the department, which has only 16 officers, to have the case hanging over their heads for so long.
“Our internal review decided they hadn’t violated any policies, so they went back to work,” Mitchell said of the detectives. “But we were always waiting on the decision from the DA.”
Mitchell said he finally took it upon himself to call Matloff directly in “either January or February.”
“He said in his opinion it was justified,” Mitchell said. “I don’t have a piece of paper that says that, but that’s what he told me. Just literally said I reviewed it, no charges or repercussions for either officer, and that’s how it went.”
Mitchell said the only other recent officer involved shooting, the fatal shooting of 33-year-old William Lee Honea in 2014, was handled the same way.
“Didn’t get a piece of paper then, either,” he said.
Prosecutors often send clearance letters to law enforcement agencies following a charging decision in an officer-involved shooting to help explain how they reached their decision. It also creates a paper trail of the timeline of the prosecutor’s decision and can be used as evidence that the officers are cleared to return to work.
There were 35 fatal police shootings in Oklahoma last year, and there have been six so far this year.
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