WARNER ROBINS — As he was told by a Warner Robins police officer to drop his gun, a Fort Valley man raised the gun in the direction of a crowd of more than 50 people outside of a Waffle House and was shot and killed by Warner Robins police, Police Chief Brett Evans said Wednesday.
Those details as well as others of the Feb. 6 fatal police shooting were released for the first time at a news conference.
Reginald Bernard Smith, 27, died in the restaurant parking lot at 1287 S. Houston Lake Road after he was shot eight times by Warner Robins police officers Jesse Mettendorf, 24, and Eric Hunley, 23, who had responded to a report of a large fight at the restaurant at 2:18 a.m.
“The investigation determined that at the time of the incident, Reginald Bernard Smith was committing the offense of aggravated assault and officer(s) Mettendorf and Hunley followed the department’s general orders concerning the use of deadly force, which was compatible with the laws of Georgia,” Evans said.
The internal police investigation found that the officers were justified in the use of deadly force because they believed the crowd in the parking lot was in imminent danger from the gun-wielding Smith. A Houston County grand jury and District Attorney Kelly Burke concurred with those findings. Also, the GBI found the Warner Robins criminal investigative report substantiated the use of deadly force.
At the news conference at the police department, Evans released surveillance video of the fight inside the Waffle House with a voice overlay of the 911 call from a restaurant waitress who stayed on the phone with a 911 operator as the situation escalated.
Smith, who Evans said was about 6 feet 2 inches and weighed about 350 pounds according to autopsy findings, can be seen leaving the restaurant and returning. The waitress told the 911 operator that a man had a gun and described Smith, who was shown on the video. Evans pointed Smith out on the video as it was played at the news conference.
“Oh my God! We need somebody here right now. ... Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God,” the audibly shaken waitress told the 911 operator.
The fight moved outside and shots are heard on the 911 tape, with the operator telling the waitress that officers are on the scene. The restaurant did not have surveillance cameras outside, Evans said.
Evans said witnesses told police that Smith had fired two shots into the air as police rounded the corner from the back of the restaurant. Smith was ordered to put down his gun as Mettendorf opened fire, Evans said. Mettendorf fired five times and Hunley fired six times, the chief said.
Of the eight gunshot wounds Smith received, a wound to his inner right arm was consistent with his arm being raised at the time the wound was inflicted based on the autopsy, Evans said.
Evans was asked during the news conference why officers didn’t deliver shots to Smith’s legs or other areas and why they kept firing.
“They are trained to take the action until the threat is stopped,” Evans said. “And without getting into a judgmental, without being there, the officers will use whatever force is necessary until that time when they deem that the threat has stopped.”
Also, Smith’s blood alcohol level was .48 — six times the legal driving limit of .08, Evans noted.
Meanwhile, three people were charged with misdemeanor affray by Warner Robins police from the incident: Tony Delonzo Rice, 36, of Fort Valley; Jeson Damil Johnson, 23, of Warner Robins; and Thomas Mark Anthony Golphin, 27, of Fort Valley.
Elouise Smith, Reginald Smith’s mother, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Evans said Elouise Smith was kept abreast of what was happening with the investigation into the shooting and was told of the results of the grand jury findings before the information was released to news media.
“She was kept up to date during the entire course of the investigation,” Evans said. “She was not left in the dark.”
Officers Mettendorf and Hunley, who remained on paid leave Wednesday, have been cleared to come back to work and both have indicated a desire to return, Evans said.
Mettendorf has been with the department for 2 1/2 years and Hunley for two years.
Evans noted that the fatal shooting was also traumatic for the officers.
“It takes a lot of courage to do the right thing,” Evans said. He noted that officers “put their lives on the line every day.”
Evans also thanked the community and city leaders for their support of the police department in the aftermath of the shooting.
Staff Writer Liz Fabian contributed to this article. To contact writer Becky Purser, call 923-3109, extension 243.