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Insult & Injury

Tim Peck was picking up a cheeseburger when he met up with Kelvin Smith, an off-duty cop with a hefty personnel file and an expandable baton


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Tim Peck was splayed outside Fox & Hounds restaurant and pub, his legs oozing blood. The streams had started to form little pools in the pavement. Set after set of headlights rounded the bend of Collier Road, interrupting the darkness and disappearing. The ambulance seemed to be taking a long time.

"My sense of time was a little bit skewed at that point," Peck recalls. "I guess when you're in an excited state, the clock is ticking slowly. I was calling out for somebody in the restaurant to come over and help me."

Police responding to a 911 call about an unruly customer paid Peck little mind. He wasn't unruly as he sat there with two broken legs. Waitresses in crisp white shirts were hurrying about the patio, tapping orders into handheld electronic notepads. The crowd returned to sipping import drafts.

A well-heeled woman walked up. The bleeding man was blocking her car. An officer dragged Peck to the middle of the lot, so the woman could drive away.

Finally, the ambulance turned the corner.

Medics wrapped Peck's disfigured left kneecap in gauze to stop the bleeding. On his right leg, where a gash exposed broken bone, they placed a splint. They lifted him onto a stretcher and loaded him into the back of the ambulance.

Peck was rolled into Grady Memorial Hospital's emergency room at 10:30 p.m. and was classified as high-priority. Fifteen minutes later, he was under an X-ray machine. Nurses injected him with morphine and extracted vials of blood. They gave the vials to the deputy who had smashed Peck's knees and who had followed the ambulance to the hospital.

Just before 2 a.m., Peck went into surgery. He awoke, 10 hours later, his right wrist handcuffed to a bed frame.

While Peck was being prepared for his operation, Fulton County Sheriff's Deputy Kelvin Smith was writing his version of what had happened at Fox & Hounds. In the box marked "incident type" the deputy wrote "obstruction, terroristic threats, simple battery on a peace officer." In the box marked "charges" he wrote "disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, profane and abusive language."

In Smith's version of the incident, Peck stood 6 feet tall and weighed 200 pounds -- even though Peck's driver's license, and a cursory look at him, shows him to be 5-foot-9, 140 pounds.

In Smith's version, Peck hit, pushed, grabbed and threatened the 6-foot-4, 250-pound deputy, who was working off-duty as a Fox & Hounds security guard. Smith writes that he had no choice but to pull his expandable baton and strike Peck several times in the knees and shins.

"There's nothing unusual I remember about it," the deputy told CL before declining further comment. "Everything is in my report."

Given Smith's track record of on-the-job confrontations, there may be little unusual about the incident. Over the past four years, 10 complaints of his aggression have reached the sheriff's internal affairs office. The complaints, all of them filed by inmates Smith supervised, allege that the deputy hit, choked, dragged, bloodied or bruised them.

Yet all of the complaints -- even the one where Smith's accuser passed a lie detector test and Smith didn't -- were marked "unsubstantiated."

That doesn't come as a surprise to Maj. Berle Brereton, head of internal affairs, which is formally called the Office of Professional Standards.

"The sheriff's philosophy is, we try to give the deputy the benefit of the doubt," Brereton says.

Peck had crafted his world with few surprises, and that's the way it remained until April. For instance, he started most mornings with an espresso and a Haydn symphony. He had grown used to the comfort of programming databases from home, back when he could work. He spent evenings learning JavaScript techniques in online newsgroups or pondering spiritual development in e-mail discussion forums.

These were the ordinary events that Peck expected in his small, orderly apartment. He's lived there, off Collier Road in Northwest Atlanta, for 13 years. It is the same zip code in which the 45-year-old went to grade school.

On the morning of April 11, Peck got out of bed, showered, dressed in khaki shorts and a T-shirt, fixed a cup of espresso and put Haydn in the CD player. Throughout the late morning and afternoon, he sifted through waves of e-mail, skimmed his library of computer manuals and talked with his boss about their next Web development project. He recalls that he ate a late lunch and poured himself a scotch over ice in time for the 5 p.m. news. He poured two more drinks over the next three hours.

At about 9 p.m., he flipped through a pile of take-out menus. He pulled one from Fox & Hounds and called in a to-go order for a burger with Swiss cheese, cooked medium. Fifteen minutes later, he put on sandals and a baseball cap and walked a block up Collier Road.


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