Student sent to prison in police officer dragging case

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WEST CHESTER — An Immaculata University student who adopted beliefs popular among the “Moorish American” anti-court movement was sent to Chester County Prison after a judge criticized her for putting a Malvern police officer’s life in jeopardy during a routine traffic stop.

“Luckily, he didn’t die,” Common Pleas Court Judge Jacqueline Carroll Cody said of Officer Patrick Dougherty, who was dragged several feet by the car Janay Rebecca Smith was driving the night he pulled her over for running several stop signs in the borough. “But you didn’t care what was going to happen to him.

“What you did that night almost killed somebody,” Cody said as Smith looked on from the courtroom podium.

Cody sentenced Smith, who was commuting to Immaculata from her home in Philadelphia at the time of the incident, to serve nine to 23 months in the county prison, plus an additional four years of probation. She must undergo anger management courses, and work 25 hours in community service as part of her overall sentence.

Cody, who had presided over Smith’s trial in January as well as a number of contentious court appearances at which Smith seemed to assert that the court held no jurisdiction over her, a frequent contention of the Moorish American movement, noted that she could have sent Smith to a state prison to serve a longer sentence. Her lack of a criminal record, however, spared her that fate, the judge said.

In January following a three-day-long trial, a jury found Smith guilty on one felony count of aggravated assault, fleeing or eluding police, recklessly endangering another person and related charges.

Smith, 29, who now lives with her new husband in Las Vegas, represented herself in the trial. 

Although she had previously questioned the legitimacy of courts in Pennsylvania and has contended that since she is a “Moorish American,” she cannot be judged by current legal authorities, during the trial she refrained from outbursts or sideshows and appeared polite and reserved.

Smith contended during the trial that she had panicked during her encounter with the Malvern police and had not meant to harm either Dougherty or his colleague, Officer Tyler Bury, that night.

That excuse was disputed by the lead prosecutor in the case, Chief Deputy District Attorney Michelle Frei, as well as Dougherty, who wrote a victim impact statement for Cody in which he detailed the emotional impact experience had had on him and his family.

“She had no respect for my life or my partner’s life,” Dougherty wrote in the statement that was read in court by Malvern Chief Louis Marcelli because the officer was unavailable last week. “I was lucky to receive only bumps and bruises. I was one of the lucky ones. I still think about that night and how it could have ended differently.”

Frei reminded Cody that the video recorded of the traffic stop on King Street in the borough showed the two officers treating Smith professionally, not inflaming the situation or acting aggressively, in contrast to social media videos of hostile interactions between police and black motorists in recent months.

“Nobody yelled at her,” Frei said, in asking Cody to sentence Smith to a long stay in county prison. “They were polite. They were respectful. They treated her with nothing but kindness and respect. They went out of their way to be kind to her”

Nevertheless, Smith decided to run from the scene in her car while Dougherty was trying to get her to step outside her car for identification. “Officer Dougherty didn’t know if he was going to go home that night when she took off.”

For her part, Smith continued to insist that she had felt trapped “in a box” during the encounter and that her decision to flee the scene was “misinterpreted” as an attempt to harm the officers. “We both were out of line,” she said. “You put out what you want to receive.

“I didn’t want things to escalate like this,” Smith said. “This will never happen again, ever.”

 According to testimony at her trial, Smith was pulled over around 9:10 p.m. on Dec. 20, 2018, while driving a black Chevrolet Monte Carlo which Bury had seen fail to stop at several stop signs along the King Street corridor running eastbound into the borough. The car kept going even after Bury activated his lights and siren, and eventually pulled into the Malvern Shopping Center in the middle of town.

When Bury asked Smith for her license and registration, she first hesitated and then began questioning him about the stop. What had she done wrong? What authority did he have to stop her? All are the sort of questions that persons who identify with the “Moorish American” or “Sovereign Citizen” movements pose because they question whether police have the Constitutional right to stop them for such things as traffic infractions without presenting a warrant.

At some point, Dougherty arrived, first as backup at the scene and later, as Smith’s refusal to comply with providing identification became more pronounced, side by side with Bury at the passenger door. Smith eventually produced two ID cards, which proved to be self-produced “Aboriginal American Native” ID cards that many in the Moorish movement use.  Her Pennsylvania driver’s license was under suspension at the time.

Bury and Dougherty said that they were not able to match the name on the cards, Janay Rebecca Bey, with any valid driver’s license, and told Smith she would be taken into custody so they could ascertain her name and address. When she refused to get out of the car, they began trying to pull her front the driver’s seat and she fought back.

With Bury to the rear and Dougherty closest to the door and holding onto her arm, Smith put the car in gear and hit the accelerator. Bury testified he saw Dougherty dragged between 10 and 20 feet before falling to the ground and rolling over.

Dougherty was only moderately injured and missed two days at work as he underwent occupational therapy.

“I definitely needed to go to the hospital,” that night, he told Frei in his testimony in January. “But I would rather have caught the person who did this.” Asked his reaction to what happened to him, Dougherty answered, “I felt like I’d been hit by a bus.” 

“Were you afraid?” asked Frei. “Yes,” the officer answered.

To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.