A New Orleans man whose punch dropped a California man last month and left him paralyzed acted in self-defense, his attorney said Monday. He said the victim threw a can at the local man’s car and then approached when his client got out to check for damage.
After decking 64-year-old retiree Doug David, Christopher Smith moved on to a date night at the Blue Nile club on Frenchmen Street, defense attorney Gino Gates said.
“When you’re defending yourself, you move on,” Gates said. “You’re not going to wait around. He punched him; he moved on.”
Smith, 30, turned himself in late Sunday night and was booked early Monday. Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell set bail at $35,000 for Smith on a count of second-degree battery over the Oct. 15 fisticuffs in Faubourg Marigny.
Gates called it a trumped-up charge for an incident that he said lacked the intentionality required under Louisiana law. A conviction for second-degree battery carries a maximum eight-year prison term.
“It was his intention to be on a date with his girlfriend,” Gates said.
Gates claimed Smith is protected under Louisiana’s version of a “stand your ground” law. He also claimed “racial slurs were involved” and that David “was kicking at him and had his fists up” when Smith, 30, landed the debilitating blow.
Smith didn’t flee, Gates insisted, but neither did he wait around for police, who showed up some 40 minutes later.
The apparent road-rage incident stirred public shock both over the lifelong injury suffered by David, who was described as a frequent New Orleans visitor and music aficionado, and over the lag in police response.
A New Orleans police officer showed up 40 minutes after a witness called 911 and, because of a snafu in communications, wasn’t told that an emergency medical crew had come and gone, taking David to University Medical Center for treatment, authorities acknowledge.
The officer then marked up the call as “unfounded,” a determination that indicates no crime took place.
It’s an assessment that Gates, Smith’s attorney, endorsed on Monday, at least as far as his client goes. If anything, police should have booked David in the scrap, Gates said.
“I recognize his injuries are a concern,” Gates said. But, he said, “people have been fighting in the French Quarter for 200 years.”
A warrant for Smith’s arrest portrays the incident differently. In it, New Orleans Police Department Detective Daneika Cummings described a surveillance video showing that the driver of the car, described as a tall black man wearing a cap, approached David after exiting his car. According to his booking record, Smith is 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 175 pounds.
“The video depicts the victim raising his hands defensively, at which time he is struck in the face two times by the black male subject wearing a cap,” the detective wrote.
David went down without reaching for the ground. The video shows Smith fleeing the scene, Cummings wrote.
According to the warrant, police talked to the woman who was riding with Smith, who told them she saw a white man throw a beer can at the vehicle, scream and accuse Smith of trying to drive over his foot. Smith stopped the car and got out.
“The witness stated she observed the victim raise his hands up, at which time Smith punched the victim and the two began to fight,” the warrant application states.
David, 64, dropped to the ground, and Smith returned to the car and drove away, the warrant states.
A spinal injury has left David, who lives in La Jolla, a section of San Diego, with a spinal injury that has rendered him “permanently paralyzed from chest to feet.”
Gates cited a Louisiana law that says: “A person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is in a place where he or she has a right to be shall have no duty to retreat before using force or violence as provided for in this section and may stand his or her ground and meet force with force.”
If David hadn’t thrown the can, Gates argued, “we wouldn’t be here today.”
The same statute says that if force is used to prevent force, it “must be reasonable and apparently necessary to prevent such offense.”
Police began investigating the case on Oct. 25, 10 days after the late-night incident at Frenchmen and Decatur streets, following media accounts of the incident and David’s injuries.
Gates said he expected Smith to make bail later Monday.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office had sought a $100,000 bail for Smith, whose criminal history in Orleans Parish includes a few dropped charges for marijuana possession. His most recent local arrest came in 2008, records show.
David returned to California late last week, according to a Times of San Diego report.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.