LAWRENCEVILLE — A handful of Gwinnett County police officers believe Scott Smithwick is a pot farmer, growing marijuana plants with a top-notch, hydroponic outfit tucked away in the basement of his parents’ Lawrenceville home.
Smithwick contends he’s merely a caregiver with a green thumb, bringing tropical plants and flowers to life when it would be far too cold to do so outside.
A Gwinnett County Police Department internal investigation — triggered by the complaint Smithwick filed after several officers searched his home in November — isn’t yet complete, and won’t necessarily determine which party is “right” about that aspect. It will, however, look to determine the validity of Smithwick’s claims of professional misconduct, sexual harassment and improper threats.
On Nov. 7, Gwinnett County police officers visited the Smithwick home on Smokehouse Path, where Scott Smithwick lives and helps care for his 69-year-old father, Darrell, a retired attorney who is recovering from back surgery and suffers from macular degeneration.
Acting on alleged tips about illegal drug activity at the house, they were turned away because they did not have a warrant. They returned with one at about 8 p.m. the next evening.
Authorities eventually came upon the well-organized basement nursery, which a police report described as “exactly (the) same as the marijuana grow laboratories I have seen before.” Smithwick contends that he’s been gardening that way — with a hydroponic setup, expensive lights and high-end fertilizers — for about 10 years.
“I can grow stuff for two months here, grow up tables of plants, then when April 15 comes around and the frost is gone, I can put out much bigger plants,” Smithwick said. “I can get a much bigger plant over the growing season, get much more flowers.”
The actual search, which didn’t produce any marijuana, is the basis for Smithwick’s complaint and GCPD’s internal investigation.
Smithwick maintains that he was harassed and, over the course of several hours, heatedly questioned and verbally abused by the six police officers serving the search warrant.
The 42-year-old told the Daily Post that he was surrounded and grilled at his kitchen table and told to “just tell us you had plants and got rid of them, and we’ll leave.” He said he was eventually coerced into “confessing,” but reneged when continually pushed as to where the alleged pot had gone.
“The way they treated my son while I was sitting at the kitchen table was just short of physical torture,” Darrell Smithwick, the father, told the county’s Board of Commissioners during Tuesday’s meeting.
Scott Smithwick alleged that Officer J.P. Griswold roamed his home “spitting in my trash cans” and made a sexually inappropriate joke.
“He walks over to my bed here ... and opens up this cabinet and sees these condoms, and looks over at me and says, ‘Oh, extra small, huh?’” Smithwick said. “It was unbelievable.”
He said he was told that, based on the fertilizers and grow lights in his basement, officers could “take me to jail, hold me without bond and send me to prison.”
After authorities discovered no pot, Sgt. S.H. Kannigiser “said, ‘You’ve got one week to tell me where I can find a pound of marijuana,’” Smithwick is alleging.
The story told in the official incident report, filed by Officer N. Cultarevic, differs. According to excerpts:
• “(Scott Smithwick) advised he was sick and uses marijuana regularly to treat his mental illness. (He) specified he was diagnosed with mild schizophrenia.”
• “During the search of the residence we did not find any marijuana.”
• “Above the plants on the roof top of the nursery I located about 10 metal hanging hooks used to dry raw marijuana plants.”
• “On the other side of the backyard fence we found four large sealed containers thrown in the wood line bordering (Smithwick’s) property. The containers smelled like raw marijuana, and (Smithwick) said the containers were his and he used them to store marijuana. (Smithwick) said he got rid of the marijuana in the containers and threw them over the fence to get rid of any evidence.”
• “Due to a complex crime scene, we decided to wait on charging (Smithwick) with criminal attempt to manufacture marijuana. Namely, there was enough evidence on scene to charge (Smithwick) with the crime, but we decided to wait and investigate further.”
• “No items were taken from the scene.”
Smithwick filed a complaint with GCPD’s internal affairs unit on Nov. 9, the day after the search in question. Police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said Wednesday that the investigation was likely “still a few weeks away from completion.”
“At that point, it will be reviewed by the chief,” Smith said in response to a request under the Georgia Open Records Act. “Once the chief signs off on it, it will be considered closed. The I.A. investigation will be subject to release 10 days after it is closed.”
Another spokesman said no updates were available Friday.
The department would release no other details regarding the complaint and investigation. No charges have been filed against either Smithwick.
Smithwick and his father both spoke at Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, calling for the firing of the officers involved in the incident and publicly likening their behavior to “what the Gestapo interrogations must’ve been like in Nazi Germany.”
Scott Smithwick said, depending on the outcome of the investigation, the family is not against filing a lawsuit sometime in the future.
“I don’t really expect a harsh punishment,” Smithwick said, “but it’s not going to be the end of it. We’re going to keep escalating it until we get some answers from these policemen.”