If you paid attention to what Ohio State football fans were talking about over the weekend, you probably saw the Reddit thread that pointed out that Brett McMurphy edited his stories about former Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith on Facebook – changing some key facts in the process – without issuing formal corrections.
This became controversial in large part because McMurphy reported before Urban Meyer’s interviews at Big Ten Media Days that Zach Smith was “arrested Oct. 26, 2015 by the Powell (Ohio) Police Department on felony counts of domestic violence and felonious assault against Courtney Smith,” while McMurphy later changed that report to say that Zach was only investigated for those offenses, citing a police report that was released to the media on July 24 – just hours after Meyer denied knowledge of the 2015 incident – that did not indicate that Smith was arrested.
Eleven Warriors obtained two offense reports from Powell Police regarding the incident – one from 2015 and the one that was also sent to McMurphy on July 24 – neither of which indicated that Zach was arrested. It’s possible, but not confirmed, that McMurphy could have received a different version of the report than the initial report that Eleven Warriors and the anonymous Reddit poster received. In an interview with Eleven Warriors on Monday, Powell Chief of Police Gary Vest did not confirm whether there were any other versions of the report – saying that all records kept by Powell Police have been maintained for court records, but that the offense report released on July 24 was the only report being released by Powell Police at this time – but did say that any indication that Zach was arrested that came from his department was a result of human error.
“He was never arrested, never handcuffed, never brought in and never charged in a court of law here in 2015,” said Vest, who declined to directly identify Zach as the redacted suspect in the offense reports. “There were never any charges filed in the court process. So the word ‘arrest’ was simply checked on a box that shouldn’t have been checked.”
There were several other discrepancies between the two police reports that Eleven Warriors obtained from the 2015 incident. In the offense report released on Nov. 6, 2015, the offenses were listed as disorderly conduct and aggravated menacing – both misdemeanors – with a clearance of “Investigation Pending.” In the offense report released on July 24, the offenses were listed as domestic violence and felonious assault – both felonies – with no clearance box checked.
Citing the “Marsy’s Law” constitutional amendment that was passed by Ohio voters in 2017 to protect the rights of crime victims, Vest said Powell Police does not plan to release additional documents related to the 2015 allegations against Smith at this time nor discuss details of the case beyond what was included in the offense reports that have already been released. Vest did indicate, though, that it is not necessarily unusual for a misdemeanor offense to be changed to a felony while an investigation is ongoing, nor unusual for an investigation to remain open over an extended period of time.
“It’s an ongoing process of review,” Vest said. “That’s different than if the officers arrived at a domestic call, and they actually saw what the person was doing, had the evidence and they issued an arrest, then the timeline for a speedy trial would come into play, as an arrest actually occurs. When we’re reviewing with prosecutors, the only timelines we have to follow are the statute of limitations. So it’s more a process that occurs based on all the facts than it has anything to do in an individual case.”
Vest did not specify whether the investigation from the 2015 incident was considered to be open or closed. He did indicate, however, that Powell Police are looking into the situation to determine whether additional steps should be taken after Courtney and Zach each spoke publicly about the incident for the first time last week.
“In light of the more recent communication by both parties, I would say we’re looking into … we are re-examining to make sure that there’s no new information, and to decide whether or not there’s additional done,” Vest said.
No charges from the 2015 incident have ever been filed against Zach. Vest said that Powell Police have been in communication with the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office, and that the prosecutor makes the decisions on whether to bring forth charges in any case in which an immediate arrest is not made.
“To take somebody to court, and to win a case, you have to have enough evidence to believe that beyond a reasonable doubt that a person did something,” Vest said. “The police make charges, make referrals to charges, discuss things with prosecutors when we feel that we have reason to be concerned about the totality of the circumstances, and then the prosecutor reviews it. The prosecutor has the authority to say, ‘No, I wouldn’t prosecute that based on what I have, I want more information,’ and the prosecutor provides guidance, because the prosecutor’s the person that ultimately has to present it beyond a reasonable doubt standard. And if the prosecutor feels that winning that case in court is unlikely, then the prosecutor’s not going to recommend that we file those charges, based on what we have at the time in any case.”
Vest said he believes Powell Police have followed all standard protocol and done everything they were supposed to do in the Smith investigation, and that police records will back that up if they are ever released.
“If the court at some point orders us to release the documents, then I feel that while everybody will have a differing of opinion at what they received, I believe the police did a thorough job communicating with everybody involved,” Vest said.
Ohio State fired Zach Smith on July 23, hours after the 2015 incident was first reported to the public. Ohio State placed Meyer on administrative leave last Wednesday, and is currently conducting its own investigation into what Meyer knew about those allegations and whether he handled the situation correctly.
Editor's Note: the two versions of the Powell Police Department incident report from Courtney Carano Smith's call on Oct. 26, 2015 linked in this article were obtained by Eleven Warriors in 2015 and 2018. Courtney Smith's phone number was redacted by Eleven Warriors, otherwise the documents are presented unedited.
Read more on how Eleven Warriors handled documents related to Zach Smith's past.