RICHMOND, Va. -- “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.
Smith has now filed a lawsuit against the city and the unnamed officer. Smith said 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 news release. “It was not.”
Smith said he was “enraged and traumatized” after seeing police use force on “innocent people.”
After gaining attention on social media for the video, Smith said he endured “vitriol, hate, and unspeakable threats of violence.”
“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 May. Floyd died in Minneapolis while in police custody. On June 2, Mikhail Smith spoke directly to former Richmond Police Chief William Smith during a town hall held by Mayor Levar Stoney.
“I protest the police that do not do their job,” Mikhail Smith said. “This is not a war against police; this is a war against police brutality.”
Mikhail 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,” Mikhail 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 Mikhail Smith in the lawsuit.
The Richmond Police Department did not respond to a request for comments.
By Andrew Ringle/Capital News Service
Editor's note: This article was written by staff members of The Commonwealth Times, the independent student newspaper at VCU which originally published the article.
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.