Bastrop County, TX – After gunning down an innocent, unarmed woman without warning and falsely claiming she had a gun in her hand, a former deputy was found not guilty of murder this week. Although several other deputies were caught blatantly participating in a cover-up, no other cops face criminal charges for their involvement.
According to Bastrop County Sheriff Terry Pickering’s initial press release, Yvette Smith called 911 to report two men fighting over a shotgun at approximately 12:33 a.m. on February 16, 2014. After disregarding commands to come out, Smith stood in the doorway brandishing a gun. Ignoring further orders, Smith was shot to death while “displaying a firearm.”
But according to the police dash cam footage of the incident, no deputies had issued any commands to Smith and she was unarmed when Deputy Daniel Willis killed her. Smith had actually convinced her boyfriend’s son to unload the shotgun and leave it on a table before she decided to inform the deputies that everyone was safe.
Arriving at the scene moments before the fatal shooting, Deputy Scott Gaskamp wrote in his incident report and told investigators that the officers had ordered Smith to show them her hands, to open the door, and come out of the house. Willis also told investigators that Deputy Gaskamp had issued orders at Smith before the shooting. But the dash cam video proved in court that none of the deputies issued any orders before Willis suddenly opened fire.
In the video, Willis can be heard shouting, “Police!” a moment before firing two shots at Smith. Although Gaskamp initially testified that he ordered Smith to show her hands, after watching the video in court, he admitted, “I did not say those words. It must have been a figment of my imagination.”
Later in the video, a woman can be heard informing Willis, “There’s a gun on the table. Nobody has the gun in their hand. She opened up the door to see what was going on.”
According to special prosecutor Forrest Sanderson, Willis had no reason to feel unsafe because the deputy was armed with an AR-15, wore a bulletproof vest, had backup on the scene, and was hidden behind an SUV 40 feet away from the unarmed woman when he killed her.
In March 2014, the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office demoted and suspended a lieutenant and sergeant for tampering with Willis’ training records immediately following the shooting. Lt. Joey Dzienowski was demoted to patrol duty and suspended for 240 hours, while Sgt. David Repka was demoted to patrol duty and suspended for 32 hours after altering Willis’ files during an active investigation.
Willis had been a deputy for less than a year in Bastrop before killing Smith. He had previously worked as a jailer in the Austin area and had been rejected for patrol officer jobs by other law enforcement agencies, including the Austin Police Department.
After Willis was indicted for murder and fired from the sheriff’s office, Smith’s family received a $1.2 million settlement from Bastrop County for negligently hiring Willis. Last September, a mistrial was declared when the jury remained deadlocked 8-4 in favor of guilty.
With Willis opting for a bench trial this time, Judge Albert McCaig found him not guilty of murder this week. Usually operating out of Waller County, where Sandra Bland died in police custody, McCaig helped to choose grand jurors last year who declined to file charges related to her death.
Instead of holding Willis responsible for killing an unarmed 47-year-old woman without warning, McCaig blamed Smith’s boyfriend and his son for causing her death. After McCaig read the verdict, members of Smith’s family left the courtroom in tears as one man exclaimed, “Bullshit, that’s bullshit!”
Although Willis lost his job and the county spent $1.2 million to settle the family’s civil suit, the former deputy got away with taking an innocent woman’s life while several members of the sheriff’s office attempted to cover up his lack of justification in shooting her. Despite the fact that Smith made the 911 call and was able to de-escalate the situation by herself, the sheriff’s office determined she was a threat and killed Smith before falsely accusing her of displaying a firearm.