Douglas City Councilman Eric Smith Pleads Guilty To Breaking & Entering Of A Home
A sitting Douglas city councilman has pleaded guilty to breaking and entering/illegal entry of a neighbor’s home and the victim says she wants his resignation as a city official.
Councilman Eric Wade Smith, who lives at 241 Wiley Road in Douglas, pleaded guilty on June 26 before Allegan County District Court Judge William Baillargeon.
The misdemeanor breaking-and-entering conviction could have brought Smith a sentence of up to a year in jail, but the judge ordered him to pay a $425 fine or serve 30 days in jail.
Smith chose to pay the $425 fine.
The victim, a single woman who lives near Smith, says the incident - that included Smith twice illegally entering her home - has left her frightened and seeking a personal protection court order to keep Smith away from her.
Although the victim is a neighbor of the married Smith who has two children, the victim says she had never met Smith before the incidents that took place in May.
The victim asked The Local Observer not to use her name.
A defiant Smith says he does not plan on resigning, yet is seeking the advice of fellow Douglas city councilpersons and telling them his version of events.
“I would not be considering resignation,” says Smith. “What I did was the right thing to do for the neighborhood.”
Smith has not said or explained publicly why he pleaded guilty if he is now claiming he did nothing wrong.
According to police and prosecutor’s records, Smith first entered the woman’s home at a time when she was not there, but contractors were at the residence working on some construction projects.
Smith was walking around the woman’s home when one of the contractors confronted him and asked him why he was there and whether the owner (the female victim) had given him permission to enter the residence.
When Smith responded “no” the contractor asked him to leave, which he did.
Upon returning to her home, the victim was told of Smith’s enterning her home without permission.
“I thought about calling the police at that time, but decided not to even though what he did greatly disturbed me,” says the woman. “I’m a single woman, I don’t know this man and he had no reason to be in my home at all.”
Then on a separate occassion, according to police and court records, Smith claims he was home when he and other neighbors heard “an incredibly loud” smoke alarm go off in the woman’s home.
Neither the victim - nor any contractors - were at her home at the time of this incident.
Smith later told police he knocked on the woman’s door and no one answered so he went around back and entered her home through an open back door.
Once inside the woman’s home, Smith told police, he removed the batteries out of the smoke detector and left them and the smoke detector on a table and then left after writing a short note explaining what he had done.
When the woman later returned home, she said she was stunned to find out Smith had once again illegally entered her home and then called police.
As she was talking to the police officers in front of her home, Smith reportedly came over to the home and tried to shake her hand, which the woman refused.
“I didn’t know him at all, had never met him and here he was trying to put this show on for the police to pretend we were somehow friends,” she said.
According to authorities, Smith told the investigating officers that other neighbors had heard the loud smoke alarm as well and had wanted him to check it out.
After investigating his story, police could not verify what he had told them and could find no neighbors who had heard the alarm going off. The victim told the investigators she wanted Smith arrested, which he was. He was then charged with one count of breaking and entering/illegal entry.
The victim says she was promised by the Allegan County Prosecutor’s Victim/Witness Coordinator Emelda Calanchi-Pope that she would be notified when Smith’s case came before the judge, “but that never happened. I was never given the opportunity to tell the judge how violated I felt and what had actually happened.”
An official from the prosecutor’s office says they are looking into why the victim was never notified.
Smith plead guilty and was sentenced the same day by Judge Baillargeon (June 26) without the victim’s knowledge.
An apparently unrepentant Smith now claims he felt he did nothing wrong and was only trying to help investigate a possible problem at the woman’s home when the alarm went off.
The victim says it’s all a lie; her smoke alarm worked fine when she put the batteries back in.
She also said she and the authorities believe Smith wrote the note saying he had been inside the home to deal with the alarm because he may have feared someone saw him enter the back door of the house and needed to try and cover his tracks.
“He should have called 911 if that had happened, but I don’t believe he illegally entered my house because of any faulty smoke alarm. The whole thing is just scary. There’s something not right with him!”
On August 1, the victim filed a complaint with Douglas city officials demanding that Smith resign as a councilman or be removed because of his guilty plea and conviction.
“I believe everyone needs to be protected from him (Smith),” she says.
Douglas officials then contacted a city attorney - Philip A. Erickson of Plunkett Cooney law firm - for a legal opinion.
Erickson, in a letter dated Aug. 4, wrote that under state law, the council could not remove Smith, but could decide to censure him if they so chose.
“It is our preliminary opinion that the City Council has no authority to remove an elected member of City Council from office, even if the majority of City Council wished to do so.
“A member of City Council is elected by the electors of the City and can only be removed from office via a recall election in which a majority of the electors vote to recall…such a process would of course begin with a recall petition.”