Youth in iconic RNC protest photo was later beaten by police, according to his mother


The following is a comment left at the Minnesota Independent by Melissa Smith-Tourville, who is the mother of 17-year-old Keith Smith, shown above in a photograph taken yesterday by MnIndy’s Paul Demko and published later in the day. The comment came this afternoon in response to Demko’s story from earlier today, St. Paul Police Chief Harrington: Cops ‘did heroic work yesterday.’

For photos, see Bootprints on his back from the Minnesota Independent.

My seventeen-year-old son is the young man in the photo, peacefully sitting in the street in front of an entire force of swat officers. He was later brutally beaten by five St. Paul police officers. Police Chief Harrington, your officers beat my son instead of protecting him when he was apart from the protesters and doing nothing illegal, dangerous or inappropriate. If this was not an overreaction on the part of your officers, I fail to know what would be defined as an overreaction! This is his story:

Just five weeks ago our seventeen-year-old son Keith was being celebrated by our community and beyond as a hometown star. The regional press covered him repeatedly. He single handedly organized the Music for Peace Festival, in Menomonie, Wisconsin which was attended by about 400 people. The family-friendly event included booths, seven bands and entertainment for all ages. He coordinated the event to raise money for a charity near and dear to his heart; the Red Cedar Peace Initiative. We were very proud of our son then, as we are now.

There are no words to adequately describe how we feel about the horrors that our son experienced today. Keith may not be a man yet but he has always been true to his beliefs. Today, while attending the Republican National Convention Protest to demonstrate his personal disapproval of the war in Iraq, five officers from the St. Paul Police Department beat him mercilessly. When we picked him up we found him bloody, covered in bruises and scrapes, alone and in need of medical attention.

I have always taught my children that the police are there to protect and serve. They care about those in the community and most are decent men and women, doing a really difficult job. After this experience, I only wish that I could continue standing by that belief.

I share from my heart; the heart of a concerned mother, our experience today. This evening I received a phone call from our minister, Robert (Bob) Bledsoe. Earlier in the day he had picked up our son and taken him to the Republican National Convention Protest. They had an agreement that if they got separated in all the chaos, they would meet in a designated spot at 6pm. Bob called me at 6:20 to notify me that our son had never arrived. This was very out of character for Keith, so he was worried. Bob continued to search until 7:15 when he was forced to return home without Keith. At that time Bob expressed concern that Keith may have been arrested. He shared that he had attempted to obtain information from an officer about the possibility of an arrest and despite him having been responsible for our minor child, they refused to discuss the matter with him. I immediately contacted the St. Paul Police and was directed to the Juvenile Division. The woman who answered the phone refused to search for him in the computer by name, stating that I must be patient and wait because if he had been brought to their department I would be contacted right away and he would NOT be released without a parent present. I offered my contact information and she assured me that she had placed it into their computer system.

Sometime thereafter, I received the devastating phone call from my son. He called to let me know that he had been beaten badly by the police, was arrested and brought to the Juvenile Detention Center and with little explanation, was released. My son has never been in trouble with the law, he is a practicing Buddhist who is dedicated to peaceful resolutions to any problems and I could not imagine what could have possibly caused a police officer, much less FIVE police officers to assault him. I listened intently. He explained to me that he had followed my instructions to leave the area if riot type behavior began to break out. He explained that he could see the crowd winding up and people beginning to kick over trash cans and act out. He attempted to remove himself from the crowd when he was sprayed from behind with pepper spray. Determined, he continued to navigate his way out of the crowd. He found himself several blocks away walking alongside just a few other protesters, who also appeared to be exiting the area because they were only interested in peaceful protesting and some in the crowd were getting worked up. As he walked along, someone asked him if he had a lighter. He said he didn’t think so but he would look and then set his backpack onto the ground and began to look through it. He explained that almost immediately five police officers surrounded him and demanded that he “put the bag down and put his hands in the air.” He was confused but immediately dropped the bag. Being inexperienced with the police, he did not raise his hands over his head immediately, but rather held his hands out and said, “What? I’m not doing anything!” They immediately attacked him, throwing him to the ground, repeatedly kicking, beating, dragging and hitting him. He responded by protecting his body, only to be accused of resisting arrest. When he was escorted away from the scene he was heavily covered with blood, so the police officers used a shirt to cover his body, possibly to avoid media coverage of the attack. The officers subsequently arrested those that were within the area who attempted to defend our son. Apparently because the people within hearing distance responded to his screams during the attack, he was later told that he was being charged with felony conspiracy to incite a riot. Additionally, he was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and despite giving his correct name and telling the officers exactly where his wallet was in his backpack so they could see his id, providing false identification. However, I should add at this time that since he never had his Miranda rights read to him, was never offered a phone call nor were we, his parents, ever notified of his arrest or charges, and when we sought information from the Juvenile Division they refused to give it to us, and since he was not provided with any paperwork indicating what he was arrested for or ever arraigned in court before being released, we are not entirely certain what the charges against him are.

To our horror, despite his medical needs, he was released from the Juvenile Detention Center, into the darkness of night, alone, without a parent ever having been contacted, to a city that was unfamiliar to him, by the Ramsey County Juvenile Division. He was forced to borrow a stranger’s cell phone to call home. After much confusion about his location, his father found him and brought him into our hometown hospital for medical treatment. They treated his multiple wounds, bruises and scrapes, took pictures, wound measurements and after hearing the story, stated that they would record the incident as a criminal assault.

Our family is devastated. The police could not have attacked a more respectful young man. We are asking anyone who might have been present for the beating to please contact us. Our son is unsure where he was located at, but he overheard an officer refer to 9th and believes that may be the street he was on or near. He was wearing tight fitting, knee length, dark grey corduroy pants and a dark green and black long sleeve flannel. The police ripped off his shirt during the attack and replaced it with a white t-shirt with a flag on it that said “Remember 9/11”. We are also interested in any recordings or still photos of the incident. We are currently seeking legal advice for how to proceed. Any suggestions are appreciated.

In Peace and Sorrow,
Melissa Smith-Tourville
Menomonie, Wisconsin