Just nine months before former state Rep. Virgil Smith won a Senate seat in Lansing in 2010, his life was about to fall apart.
He had been pulled over by Detroit police for speeding on 7 Mile near Woodward and an officer detected a “strong odor of intoxicants.” With two drunken-driving convictions in the past decade, Smith would face up to 10 years in prison on a third conviction.
But the Democrat, who is accused of opening fire on his ex-wife’s car early Sunday, was never charged, even though his blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit to drive.
According to records obtained by Motor City Muckraker, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy passed off the case to Washtenaw County, which waited five months before declining a police request to file a felony drunken-driving charge.
Washtenaw County prosecutors even acknowledged in a letter to Detroit police that the admissible evidence against Smith included “the strong odor of intoxicants, an admission of consuming three shots of liquor, and that he twice leaned while walking to the rear of his vehicle.”
But Assistant Prosecutor Konrad Siller didn’t think that was enough and said police improperly administered the breathalyzer by failing to monitor Smith for 15 minutes delivering the test.
“This evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Virgil Smith was intoxicated or his ability to operate a vehicle was impaired,” Siller wrote to Detroit police, explaining no charges would be filed.
The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office didn’t return our calls for comment, and we couldn’t reach Smith because he was in jail on felony assault charges.
Worthy’s office, which is handling the assault case, told us the prosecutor passed off the drunken-driving case because of a “potential conflict” involving Smith’s father, Virgil Smith Jr.
“Prosecutor Worthy asked that another office be assigned the 2010 allegations at the time because Sen. Smith’s father was the chief judge for the entire Third Circuit Court,” Assistant Prosecutor Maria Miller said. “That means that he was over the entire Criminal Division, Civil Division and Family Division at the time and that could have created a potential conflict.”
On Sunday, police said Smith shot at his ex-wife’s car as she left his house following an argument.
Smith’s father is the presiding judge in Wayne County Family Juvenile Court.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.