Orlando Smith: Natalie Cole sues Cincinnati police officer who ran over her

CINCINNATI -- The woman struck by a Cincinnati police cruiser in Over-the-Rhine last month is suing the officer, saying he deliberately deleted the dashcam video of the collision and lied when he claimed he had his emergency lights and siren on.

WCPO reporter Natasha Williams spoke with 36-year-old Natalie Cole Monday evening, one month following the accident that could have killed her.

"Physically, everyday, all day something hurts," Cole said.

She is thankful that she doesn't remember the impact, but has a hard time believing the camera in officer Smith's cruiser stopped working, especially because the camera had malfunctioned before during a fatal shooting.

"I woke up and I couldn't move and I felt my neck," Cole said. "They told me I had been hit by a police car."

Cole wants justice and a chance to go on with her life with her three boys, who are 18, 16 and 14 years old.

"They have really been traumatized over all this," she said. "I have an opportunity to get my kids back and I am going to use that to my advantage."

Cole's lawsuit says officer Orlando Smith was driving faster than 50 mph as he claims. It also says she suffered fractures in her spine, hip, six ribs, legs, wrists and collarbone. She says she needed 148 staples to close head wounds, suffered a lacerated liver and required multiple surgeries.

Smith “attempted to manipulate witnesses” to say that he had his emergency lights and siren on, the suit said.

READ: Suit filed by attorney Eric Deters in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court

Witnesses, the suit said, saw Smith driving at least 70 mph on Vine Street Nov. 9 just before he hit Cole.

A preliminary police report found that Smith was driving 50 mph in a 25-mph zone – an apparent violation of department guidelines that restrict officers to drive no more than 20 mph above the posted limit.

Cole was crossing the 1800 block of Vine Street about 7:20 p.m. when she was hit. She was not in a crosswalk and officials said Smith did not see her.

Cole said she did not hear emergency sirens or see police lights.

Smith was on his way from the Kroger parking lot at 1 W. Corry St., in Corryville, to help another officer holding two suspects at gunpoint near the intersection of Linn and Liberty streets, according to police. Cruiser camera video shows Smith with his lights and sirens on as he left the grocery store parking lot, driving south on Vine Street.

But moments before Smith hit Cole, the camera stopped recording.

Recording resumed three minutes later.

View an interactive map reconstructing the events of the incident below. Click the points on the map for a more detailed view.

View map on mobile

Map by Libby Duebber, WCPO multimedia producer. Information from Cincinnati Police Department Traffic Unit

"It was on, but for some reason, it wasn't recording. But, then it started working again three minutes later as he (Smith) was explaining the sequences of events to a lieutenant," Cincinnati police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell told WCPO following the collision. "I'm convinced that everything was above board, because had it been shut off, then turned back on, it would have backed up and captured the accident anyway.

"We haven't touched that tape."

City cameras, which are set to automatically pan, did not capture the crash either, said Traffic Unit commander Lt. Bruce Hoffbauer.

A conclusive police report, conducted by the traffic unit, will tell exactly how fast Smith was driving, police said.

Smith, a 19-year veteran of the police department, was involved in six previous crashes on duty and found  negligent in five, costing the city $17,831.70 in damages, according to his personnel file.

He was last involved in an accident on New Year's Day 2003.

Cole's suit claims Smith was using the same cruiser with the same dash-cam on the night he shot two young men after a drug deal in Avondale in 2012 and the night he ran over her. Smith claimed his camera malfunctioned during the shootings, too, the suit says.

Dontez O'Neal, 19, died from a shot in the head. Smith also wounded a man with O'Neal, Robert Matthews.

The shootings took place during a confrontation after undercover police officers said they bought heroin from a friend of O'Neal, police said.

Undercover officers followed a car containing O'Neal and two friends and requested a uniformed police officer to initiate a traffic stop. Smith attempted to stop the vehicle on Burton Avenue, but when the suspects made a U-turn and tried to flee the scene, Smith's cruiser blocked their way out.

At that point, O'Neal allegedly pointed a gun at Smith and fired but missed. Smith returned fire and hit O'Neal four times.

O'Neal's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Smith.

Police awarded Smith with the Cincinnati Police Medal of Valor.

Smith wounded 19-year-old Devon Price in the shoulder after an altercation in 2005 at the now closed Club Ritz in Roselawn. In 2002, Smith was in pursuit of a vehicle in the West End, failed to stop at a red light and hit another car. He was disciplined for his actions.

This story includes previous reporting by Kareem Elgazzar and Amy Wadas.




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