Smith receives five years probation

ROGERS CITY – An Onaway man convicted of grappling with police will spend five years on probation after spending more than a year in county jail.

Keith Allen Smith, 23, must pay $1,517 in restitution for damaging Presque Isle County Sheriff Department property and abide by the terms of his probation for five years. He was found guilty but mentally ill in November in 53rd Circuit Court of two counts of assaulting, resisting or obstructing police officers and malicious destruction of police property, and cleared of another charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm. Smith also was sentenced to a year in jail, with credit for 427 days, and ordered to pay an additional $4,534 in fines and costs.

Smith’s charges stem from an Oct. 6, 2012, incident where he got into a fight at an Onaway tavern, then stepped in front of Onaway Police Chief Jim Gibson’s patrol car, according to police reports. Gibson was responding to the fight, and after he got out of his car Smith choked him twice. Gibson tased him when he approached a third time. After Presque Isle County deputies arrived, Smith kicked at the inside of Deputy David Schmoldt’s patrol car, spit and swore at officers and struggled again at the county jail. At one point, he managed to bite Schmoldt’s finger before he was restrained.

Now, after spending 427 days in county jail, Smith said he’s changed and regrets his actions that night.

“I’m not the same person I was a year ago,” he told Judge Scott Pavlich before receiving his sentence. “I feel remorse for what I did and feel foolish for my actions, and I truly am sorry to the people I hurt. I want to be a better person, I want to change. I’m willing to do that.”

Pavlich told Smith he could go to prison if he violates probation. Smith was drinking that night and has a history of mental illness. It’s also not his first time breaking the law, and Pavlich cautioned him to change his direction.

“I don’t know if you understand just how bad alcohol is for you, but if you don’t understand it now, I don’t know if you ever will,” he said.

Prosecutor Richard Steiger asked Pavlich to impose a prison term, especially considering Smith’s past criminal record. Smith has five prior misdemeanors and started breaking the law as a juvenile. Given his attack on Gibson, Steiger believed Smith should spend time in the Michigan Department of Corrections.

“If it was an isolated event, I would not be pushing for MDOC,” he said. “It’s not an isolated event.”

Bob Engel, who represented Smith in place of attorney Daniel Hartman, said Smith is taking medication for his mental illness in jail. It’s part of his treatment that comes with a “guilty but mentally ill” conviction.

Hartman said Smith’s history of mental illness includes suicidal tendencies, made worse by mixing his medications and alcohol. Normally calm and personable, Smith has triggers that launch him into self-destructive behavior.

Hartman has worked with other mentally ill clients, some of whom he believes do not belong in the court system. Other jurisdictions have special courts for dealing with mentally ill defendants, and Smith likely would have been processed in such a court if Presque Isle County had its own.

“I commend the officers for using restraint and not using lethal force,” he said. “At the end of the day, I believe the judge got the case exactly right.”

After the sentencing, Steiger said he hopes Smith continues with that treatment and stays away from alcohol.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at