Marc Kovac The Columbus Dispatch
Westerville police officers filled the first two rows of a federal courtroom Monday to get a look at a man charged with providing the handgun that authorities say was used by a convicted felon to kill two of their fellow officers.
Gerald A. Lawson III, 30, of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, was arrested by federal agents at his suburban Cleveland home Monday after investigators identified him as the man who purchased the Glock semi-automatic handgun that Quentin L. Smith used to shoot and kill veteran Westerville officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering.
Also Monday, court documents revealed Smith‘s violent past, which included a felony conviction for domestic violence.
Lawson appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly A. Jolson at the federal courthouse in Columbus, where he confirmed that he understood the charges against him and his right to legal representation. He remains in custody of federal marshals, with a detention hearing scheduled for Wednesday.
Lawson mostly looked down at the floor during the short hearing, avoiding eye with the more than 30 police officers from Westerville and elsewhere sitting in the courtroom.
If convicted, Lawson faces up to 10 years in prison, said Benjamin C. Glassman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.
“There‘s nothing that we can do to bring back the two brave police officers who gave their lives in the service and protection of their community,” Glassman said. “The purpose of this prosecution is to try to hold accountable the person who put the gun in the hands of the shooter.”
Lawson‘s arrest came two days after Morelli and Joering were killed responding to a 911 hangup call from a Cross Wind Drive residence. A criminal complaint says Smith retrieved a handgun after officers entered the residence and shot both men. Joering died at the scene; Morelli died a short time later at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
Smith also was shot and critically wounded and was being treated for his injuries at a local hospital. He was charged Sunday with two counts of aggravated murder.
“If Smith survives his injuries, this case would be eligible for the death penalty under Ohio law because the victims were police officers killed in the line of duty, and there was more than one victim,” Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said in a statement.
Smith’s wife told officers in November that he carried a gun with him at all times, purchased by a friend with money he provided, according to an incident report compiled by Westerville police. Officers, who were responding then to a domestic dispute at the home, checked Smith and his vehicle but found no firearm, according to documents.
Investigators say Smith provided money and an extra $100 payment to Lawson to purchase the handgun even though Lawson knew that Smith was a convicted felon and was not allowed to own a firearm. A trace determined the gun was bought from a business in Broadview Heights, another Cleveland suburb.
Smith and Lawson are longtime friends, with several photos of them together posted online on one of Lawson’s social media accounts, according to a release.
“Had he not received the firearm from this person, who knows where we would be today,” Glassman said.
Smith’s record includes arrests for felonious assault, aggravated menacing, carrying a concealed weapon, simple assault, intimidation and other offenses, according to documents released Monday by the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office.
In August 2007, Quentin Smith’s mother told police that her son stabbed her live-in boyfriend, who tried to stop Smith from taking her 2003 Chevrolet Blazer when she threw Smith out of her Euclid home.
Smith stabbed the boyfriend, Joseph Henry, in the right hand and left side, sending Henry to the hospital, police said. Henry and Gina Suber, who is Smith’s mother, both told police that Smith first pointed a gun at Henry. When Henry realized it was a pellet gun, he knocked it away and they began to wrestle for the keys to the Blazer.
That’s when Smith pulled a 3 1/2-inch knife and stabbed Henry. Police later arrested Smith, who told police he was trying to defend himself.
A grand jury charged Smith with two counts of felonious assault, one count of aggravated menacing and one count of theft of a motor vehicle. But Henry never appeared in court to testify against Smith and the court dropped the charges, according to a letter in the case file.
In October 2008, Smith was arrested after he pulled a gun on his then-wife, according to court documents.
“Me and my husband got into an argument when he then started waving the gun around and screaming he knows I‘m cheating on him and he should have killed me two days ago,” Krysten Smith wrote on a statement to police the night he was arrested.
She went to a neighbor for help, and Smith later forced his way into that residence and pointed a gun at her head.
Police soon arrived and found people running from that duplex shouting “He got a gun! He got a gun!” They found and arrested Smith. He admitted he had a gun. Police found it under clothes in Smith‘s bedroom closet. It had seven live rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber, according to documents.
Krysten Smith signed forms for a protection order, court documents note.
In May 2009, Quentin Smith pleaded guilty to one count of burglary with a gun specification and one count of domestic violence. He was sentenced to three years with credit for 215 jail days served, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Smith was in prison from June 2009 through October 2011, mostly at the Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield, according to prison records. He had one prison disciplinary conduct report after entering another inmate’s cell and throwing punches.
Smith sought early release from prison but was denied. In a Jan. 5, 2011, court filing, he wrote Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Tim McMonagle to say he was faring well behind bars, had successfully completed the “Thinking For a Change” program and was nearly through with his barber training.
Smith even promised that, if released early, he would give the judge and prosecutor hair cuts and facial treatments.
A state database lists a “Quentin L. Smith” as holding a barber license, issued on Sept. 1, 2016, and expiring on Aug. 31, 2018.
“The Defendant has been committed to a path of self-improvement and submits that he can demonstrate his commitment to refrain from actions that would violate the peace and dignity of the community,” Smith wrote in the letter.
Westerville police also were familiar with Smith.
Officers were called to the Cross Wind Drive residence in September and November on domestic violence calls, according to documents.
On Nov. 29, Smith‘s wife, Candace, went to the police department asking about protection orders, telling officers that Smith had come home drunk and forced himself on her sexually, according to an incident report. He also threatened to kill her and their infant daughter if they attempted to leave him, according to the report. She left, saying she wanted to talk to her father first.
Later that day, records show, Quentin Smith called police because Candace had locked him out of their house, accusing him of cheating on her. While officers were at the home, they asked Candace Smith if she wanted to file a report accusing her husband of forcing himself on her, and she said she would think about it. Officers resolved that dispute by suggesting Candace stay upstairs that night and Quentin stay downstairs.
Officers also were called to the Smith home by Quentin Smith‘s mother on Jan. 20 on a report of a disturbance. Both Quentin and Candace Smith said they did not need police, and officers did not see signs of injury or physical violence.
Reporter Kimball Perry and Data Editor Doug Caruso contributed to this report.