LAWRENCEVILLE -- A Gwinnett County police sergeant has been suspended for three days after an internal affairs investigation determined he handled an under-dispute marijuana search poorly.
Lawrenceville resident Scott Smithwick filed a pair of complaints with the Gwinnett County Police Department following a November incident during which several officers, reportedly acting on a tip about a pot-growing operation, searched his home on Smokehouse Path. No marijuana was ever found, and Smithwick -- who maintains he was merely growing tropical plants in the basement while taking care of his ailing father -- levied a laundry list of inappropriate behavior allegations at the authorities involved.
The GCPD internal investigation into Sgt. Scott Kannigiser, who led the community response team that day, was obtained Wednesday by the Daily Post -- it sustained Smithwick's allegations, citing Kannigiser for "duty regarding conduct" and declaring that "several components of (the) criminal investigation were handled improperly."
He was suspended for three days.
The decision comes on the heels of the written reprimand given to another officer involved in the case, who spit tobacco in trash cans and made a sexual comment during the search.
"I think it shows that when county employees are coming into your home and misbehaving, you need to speak up," Smithwick said. "Hopefully these guys will realize they work for the public, and when they mistreat the public they're going to be held accountable."
The notification of intent to suspend sent to Kannigiser summarized the basic issues internal affairs found with the Nov. 8 search, including:
-- "Threats, intimidation, physical abuse and/or deprivation, promises of reward, and other similar coercions are prohibited in connection with interrogation."
-- "The handling of evidence was also not to standard."
-- "Failing to collect the containers (allegedly) containing the presence of marijuana residue led to the loss of the only physical evidence of contraband found during the execution of the search warrant." Kannigiser told investigators that the four plastic jugs found near Smithwick's backyard fence contained "the chemical residue that you could smell and feel."
-- "Employee also failed to monitor his officers, one of which spit tobacco juice in the subject's home trash cans."
The actual interviews conducted during the internal affairs probe, also obtained via an Open Records Act request, paint conflicting stories.
Kannigiser told investigators that he couldn't remember if he or his officers had cursed at Smithwick, and that Smithwick and one officer "had a great rapport."
"Like I said, he shook my hand, and sat down with me at the table," he said. "He wanted to talk with just me and him. We were laid back, easygoing."
Darrell Smithwick, the ailing father who passed away in February, depicted quite a different scene.
"I was literally afraid of what they were going to do next," the elder Smithwick told investigators. "I honestly did not know. They were out of control because their anger was so high."
Kannigiser told investigators that "it was nonstop, going from one lie to the next."
Smithwick and his father have both maintained that he eventually told police that he had had marijuana plants in the basement but had gotten rid of them -- but only because they had told him that if he "confessed" they would leave.
The suspension ultimately given to Kannigiser was for three days, though he was able to use two "annual leave" days to count toward the penalty. He will officially be "suspended" on Sunday before returning to work Monday.
"I think it definitely says something that this cop is being suspended for a few days," Smithwick said.
In an unsuccessful appeal letter, Kannigiser admitted he might have erred but further pleaded his case.
"I know that there are ways that others would have handled this incident and in some regards, knowing what I know now, I too would have done a couple of things different," Kannigiser wrote. "When I was made a supervisor, the county gave me the ability and charge to make decisions and uphold the laws of the state and to insure that other officers do the same. I never intended on doing anything maliciously and did not cut corners."
"I handled the Smithwick case with caution and discretion," he continued. "Granted this case was not in the 'norm' but I do think what I did was in good faith."
A police spokesman declined comment Wednesday.