A New Orleans man accused of second-degree battery for landing a blow last month that left a California tourist paralyzed wants the world to know he’s not that guy.
“I get flashed to the whole world like I’m a menace. It really hurts,” Christopher Smith said Friday. “I’m sorry that this happened to this man, but on my end it’s tearing me up too, to be treated like this.”
Smith, 30, turned himself in late Sunday night for what police portrayed as a road-rage assault on La Jolla retiree Doug David late on Oct. 15. He was released after he posted his $35,000 bond.
The incident has sparked a fundraising push for David’s medical care, which included a performance Friday by a large group of musicians on Royal Street. At the same time, Smith was spelling out his side of the story at a restaurant on Esplanade Avenue near City Park.
In a warrant for his arrest, police described a surveillance video showing Smith stop, get out of his car and approach the 64-year-old California man at Decatur and Frenchmen streets, near the popular strip of Faubourg Marigny music clubs.
“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,” a detective wrote.
Smith disputed that account Friday, describing David as the aggressor, and claiming he punched David once, defensively.
He said he was driving with his girlfriend in her Kia Rio to hear some reggae music at the Blue Nile music club, as he often does. Smith said he waited for pedestrians to cross, then drove ahead about 25 feet when he heard something hit the rear driver’s side window.
“I stopped the car and I looked. I see a bottle on the ground. I check for damages and whatnot. I ask the guy, ‘What’s going on?’ ” Smith said. “The guy tells me, ‘F.U.’ and made a step, started kicking at me.”
Smith, a lanky, 6-foot-6 cement truck driver, raised both fists to his face, mimicking what he described as David’s stance. He also said he heard David blurt what he took as a racial slur, “a ‘monkey’ deal, something like that. Like, ‘Come on,’ ” Smith said.
Asked to re-enact his response, Smith mimicked a right cross.
“It was a defensive punch. I was trying to get him off me, to back him off me. I just give him a little swing as he’s falling back or something,” Smith said. “I swung to get him off me. He falls. I get in my vehicle and go on my way.”
A friend of David, Sharon Jones, called the accusation that David used a racial slur “ridiculous,” and also called it absurd that Smith would claim he swung in fear of a man 34 years older and almost a foot shorter.
“What a nice story he and his defense team have concocted but witnesses and the surveillance video tell a different story. The racial slur accusation is ridiculous, and I am sure is a play to attract support from certain quarters,” Jones said. “I know he doesn’t want to go to jail. Doug doesn’t want to be paralyzed either.”
Smith says he had waited for pedestrians to reach the curb before driving through the intersection. But one video of the incident that does not capture the fisticuffs shows the car rolling narrowly past a pedestrian before the car stops and Smith gets out.
The police account describes an object thrown at the vehicle and says a witness — Smith’s girlfriend — told police that she saw a white male throw a beer can at her car, “begin to scream and accuse Smith of attempting to roll over (David’s) foot.”
After Smith struck him, David “fell to the ground without an attempt to support himself and remained motionless,” the police report states. “The subject then fled the scene.”
Smith claims he didn’t flee but parked a block up the street, where he ran into a friend, Alden Cheatham, who then approached the scene of the confrontation. Cheatham said he saw an ambulance wheeling David away, but no police. Smith and Cheatham then talked in front of the Blue Nile, they both said, never seeing a patrol car show up.
Police call records show it took an officer 40 minutes to arrive. By then, David was gone. The officer marked up the 911 call as “unfounded.” Police blamed botched communications between emergency medical responders and a dispatcher for the lapse, by way of explaining why it took a media account from San Diego to spur a police investigation and Smith’s arrest two weeks later.
Accompanied by his attorney, Gino Gates, Smith said Friday that he would have given police a statement had he seen them, though he acknowledges he didn’t remain there.
“I told my girlfriend, ‘It’s not going to ruin our night. We’re going to continue on our journey to listen to some music,’ ” Smith said. “After a confrontation, I don’t think it’s wise to pamper somebody, to be honest with you. I didn’t run; I just went around the corner.”
Smith, whose criminal record includes a few marijuana possession arrests, though nothing since 2008, described himself as “a family-oriented guy, musically inclined and a hard worker.”
He said he grew up around Conti and North Galvez streets, began playing trombone in seventh grade and rose to become a leader of the marching band at St. Augustine High School, where he graduated in 2003. He briefly went to Jackson State University, he said, before returning to work in New Orleans.
Smith speculated that his influence on local bands — he said he’s helped many local musicians improve their chops — likely extends to several of the acts that drew music fan David to frequent New Orleans.
“Everybody looks at it as, ‘Chris beat a tourist. Case closed.’ I have way more going on than what a (headline) says,” Smith said. “My intent was to go down and enjoy the music, just as he was enjoying the music.”
Smith said he became “very soulful about the situation” when he heard of David’s injuries.
Asked if he had any words for David, he replied, “I’m sorry, man. I’m sorry.”
David, whom police described as “permanently paralyzed from chest to feet,” has returned to California.
Attempts Friday to reach Alicia Foulds, the niece who cared for him at University Medical Center, were not successful.
Smith’s next court date is Nov. 30. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office has not yet accepted the second-degree battery charge, which carries a maximum eight-year prison sentence if he’s convicted.
This story has been updated to include the comments of Sharon Jones, a family friend of Doug David.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.