COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus, Ohio SWAT officer Steve Smith has died, Chief Kim Jacobs said Tuesday afternoon. Smith, 54, was shot during a SWAT stand-off early Sunday morning.
On Tuesday the suspect, 44-year-old Lincoln Rutledge, made his first appearance in court.
Smith is the 54th CPD officer to die in the line of duty since 1816. He is the 31st officer killed in the line of duty in the United States in 2016.
The Columbus Police Department last had an officer killed in the line of duty in 2005.
“We’ve lost a family member,” Chief Jacobs said. “The city lost a true hero, a true guardian and protector.”
Jacobs also said Smith will be remembered for his smile.
Fraternal Order of Police, Capital City Lodge 9 President Jason Pappas said calls have been coming in from across the country expressing support for Officer Smith and his family.
“This will not merely be a felonious assault case, likely it will be a homicide case,” Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said.
Suspect denied bond
Rutledge was denied bond Tuesday. He’s accused of shooting Smith during that SWAT stand-off early Sunday. Smith and his fellow officers were trying to serve a warrant for arson when they say Rutledge shot from inside the apartment into an armored vehicle. Smith was hit.
“As we all know there was a standoff for multiple hours that resulted in the shot that now was disclosed in court today was to the officers head,” O’Brien said.
In court, the judge called Rutledge a safety risk and raised questions about his mental health. Former co-workers from The Ohio State University and campus police had described erratic behavior.
Prosecutors said Rutledge is also accused of setting fire to his ex-wife’s home. They said this sort of case is one of the most difficult to handle.
“Whenever an officer is in the line of duty is trying to enforce the law and protect the public and someone takes it upon themselves to fire shots at them, that’s the most serious kind of case that we can deal with,” O’Brien said.
On Tuesday Pappas didn’t want to talk about Smith or his injuries, trying to maintain privacy for the family and for the SWAT officers Smith serves with.
Officer Smith leaves behind a spouse and two adult children. The 54-year-old had been employed by the Columbus Division of Police for 27 years. His personnel file paints the picture of a highly trained officer with an exemplary record.
During his career, he worked on the streets as a patrol officer, in the air with the helicopter unit, in the water as part of the dive team and, most recently, as a sniper with SWAT.
In November of 2013, Smith was injured during a shootout in a parking lot. The SWAT team had confronted Danny Thornton, a murder suspect wanted for killing his ex-girlfriend and shooting a 9-year-old boy earlier that day. Smith was hit by shrapnel in the exchange of gunfire. For that incident, Smith was awarded a Blue Star and a Distinguished Service Medal.
In this shooting Sunday, sources say Smith was in the turret of a SWAT armored vehicle and that the shot that hit him was “one in a million.”