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Richard Smith

Summary of Benton Harbor Misconduct
On January 22, 2007, police in Benton Harbor, Michigan, arrested Richard Smith after they searched a property connected to him and said they found cocaine and marijuana.

The search was based in part on information the officers received two months earlier from a confidential informant. Smith was charged with intent to deliver less than 50 grams of cocaine, possession of marijuana, and maintaining a drug house.

Smith pled guilty to the three counts in Berrien County Circuit Court on May 4, 2007, and received a sentence of two to eight years in prison.

In February 2008, Officer Andrew Collins, one of the officers involved in Smith’s arrest, was fired after a supervisor found a lockbox under a desk that contained cocaine, heroin and marijuana. The cocaine was already packaged in small baggies.

Collins was indicted on a single count of drug possession by a federal grand jury on November 26, 2008. Corporal Bernard Hall Jr., his supervisor, was indicted on July 16, 2009 on three counts: conspiracy to violate civil rights, giving false declaration to a grand jury and giving a false statement to the FBI.

After the indictments, Berrien County Prosecutor Arthur Cotter began reviewing cases where Collins and Hall were the arresting officers. Cotter filed a motion to vacate Smith’s convictions and dismiss his charges on December 23, 2008. A judge granted the motions the same day, releasing Smith from prison.

Approximately 65 defendants had their convictions vacated based on misconduct by Collins and Hall.

Collins pled guilty in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan on January 26, 2009 to his single possession count. He was sentenced to 37 months in prison. Hall pled guilty in U.S. District Court on August 25, 2009 to the conspiracy charge and was later sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Collins testified at Hall’s sentencing hearing that he and Hall embezzled from the police department by receiving reimbursement for drug buys that never happened. They also began taking money from defendants, and then under-reporting the amount of cash recovered in the evidence reports.

“I think it got to the point where we would talk about it,” Collins said. “So I asked him, I said, ‘Do you think God cares if this is drug money that we are stealing?’ And he kind of, you know, shook his head and said, ‘I know, I know, it’s been hitting me too.’ We both said, ‘let’s stop, let’s stop, let’s start doing things right.’ Then, you know, just the addiction to the money, the next person we would arrest would have a couple thousand dollars on him, and we would take money from him. It just kept happening that way. We would try to stop, and then we wouldn’t.”

In the wake of the scandal, 85 plaintiffs – some whose charges were dismissed prior to trial – filed lawsuits against Collins, Hall, and the city of Benton Harbor. Smith said in his lawsuit that Collins planted the drugs at the property during the search of the premises.

Court records suggest about 90 percent of the plaintiffs settled their lawsuits. Most of the settlements, including the amount received by Smith, have not been publicly disclosed, although the handful that have been made public appear range between $28,800 and $176,160.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 9/19/2022
Last Updated: 9/19/2022
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2006
Sentence:2 to 8 years
Age at the date of reported crime:
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No