Grand jury: Warner Robins police justified in shooting of Fort Valley man

Two Warner Robins police officers who shot and killed a Fort Valley man outside the Waffle House at 1287 S. Houston Lake Road on Feb. 6 were justified in the use of deadly force, a Houston County grand jury found Tuesday.

Houston County District Attorney Kelly Burke said the grand jury reached its conclusion after reviewing the incident. The grand jury’s findings, which were reported verbally to Burke, mirrored what the prosecutor said was his own conclusion.

Reginald Bernard Smith, 27, died in the parking lot where he was shot multiple times by two officers responding to a large fight at the restaurant at 2:18 a.m. Smith had a gun and was described by police as an “active shooter.”

A fistfight that erupted inside the restaurant over a girl escalated into an all-out brawl in which Smith left the restaurant and returned with a gun, Burke said. The ruckus moved outside.

The two responding officers came along the back of the restaurant, heard two shots fired and came around the corner where Smith was pointing a gun at the large crowd and officers opened fire, Burke said.

“In defense of others” is an appropriate use of lethal force that reflects not only Warner Robins police departmental policy but policies for police nationwide, Burke said.

Officers did not see Smith fire the shots, which witnesses indicated were fired into the air, Burke said. Officers had no way of knowing whether Smith had fired into the air or whether someone was lying on the ground from a potential gunshot, Burke said.

“It was clear the officers fired upon Mr. Smith in defense of others,” said Burke, noting the crowd of people congregated in the Waffle House parking lot.

Smith also was extremely intoxicated with his blood level at .48, Burke said. The legal driving limit is .08 in Georgia.

Warner Robins police are expected to hold a news conference at 1 p.m. today during which more details of the incident are expected to be released, Warner Robins police Maj. John Wagner said.

Also, Warner Robins police asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to review its findings into the officer-involved shooting. Gary Rothwell, special agent in charge of the Perry office, said the agency’s review “of the report substantiated the officers were justified ... because the officers believed other lives were threatened by the actions of Mr. Smith.”

Burke concluded that the shooting of Smith was a “justifiable homicide” based, he said, on review of witness statements, videotapes, audio recordings and police policies.

One of the audio recordings included a 911 tape of a Waffle House waitress who stayed on the line with the 911 operator during the incident, Burke said. Surveillance video from the restaurant showed the fight inside but there was no video of the actual shooting in the parking lot, Burke said.

Burke said he met with Smiths’ parents, widow and other family members Tuesday. Elouise Smith, Smith’s mother, declined to comment.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 923-3109, extension 243.