Andrew Ringle, Executive Editor
“They sprayed innocent people.”
That’s what Richmond resident Mikhail Smith said drove him to lean outside his apartment window in the early morning hours of May 31 and start filming what would soon become a viral video — police officers pepper-spraying pedestrians on the sidewalk outside his home.
As Smith filmed the officers after a night of protests, riots and looting, one deployed pepper spray in the direction of his open window. He says the chemical agent reached him and his belongings inside the apartment.
On Tuesday, Smith filed a lawsuit against the city and the unnamed officer. He is seeking $400,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
“I wish I could say it was the pepper spray that hurt the most,” Smith said in a release. “It was not.”
Smith said he was “enraged and traumatized” after seeing police use force on “innocent people.” He posted the video he captured to his Instagram profile, and he says it now has more than 5 million views.
After gaining attention on social media for the video, Smith said he endured “vitriol, hate, and unspeakable threats of violence” from members of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups.
“Because of police action, I no longer have the privilege of just being an American living in peace,” Smith said. “I am emotionally in a state of war.”
Smith has attended demonstrations in Richmond since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody during late May. On June 2, Smith spoke directly to former police chief William Smith during a town hall held by Mayor Levar Stoney.
“I protest the police that do not do their job,” Smith said. “This is not a war against police; this is a war against police brutality.”
Smith said he does not take the legal action lightly and he does not intend to disrespect public safety institutions.
“I am not here to throw bricks at cop cars or at local shops downtown,” Smith said. “I am here today laying brick-by-brick a monument that should stand as a monument to all the stress, pain, and anguish in my life and the lives of others.”
Chesterfield attorneys Gary Reinhardt and W. Barry Montgomery are representing Smith in the lawsuit.