One of two men accused of perpetrating four nasty and dangerous pranks on the Hemet Police Department in 2010 was sentenced last Friday to four consecutive life sentences.
Nicholas John Smit (above) was convicted of four counts of attempted murder of a peace officer, possession of a zip gun, attempting to start a fire during the commission of a felony, possession of marijuana and committing a crime while on bail November 7. A second man, Steven William Hansen, accused of being Smit’s accomplice is scheduled for trial in January 2012. Smit and Hansen were former roommates.
Smit had previously been convicted of arson and was paroled in March 2009.
According to police, Smit sought revenge on a Hemet detective named Chuck Johnson after Johnson discovered marijuana growing in and around Smit’s home in 2009. According to witnesses, Smit and Hansen were overheard plotting one of the well publicized “attacks.”
After his arrest, Smit claimed he was framed. Two weeks before his sentencing he tried to escape from a prisoner transportation van. The morning of his sentencing, Smit tried to fire his attorney. Superior Court Judge Mark Mandio denied the request.
The attacks made Hemet famous as a town besieged by “domestic terrorists.” On March 17, 2010 former Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco, former Hemet Police Chief Richard Dana, and candidate, now Governor, Jerry Brown all blamed the incidents on the Vagos Motorcycle Club. That day, Pacheco announced a multi-state roundup of Vagos called “Operation Everywhere.” Pacheco told the Los Angeles Times that the Vagos “represent an extreme threat to law enforcement” and “The goal is to eliminate this threat.”
Dana described the motorcycle club as “cockroaches” and “terrorists” and said the Vagos “practice an extreme brand of violence.” Pacheco offered a $200,000 reward for information leading to arrests in the case. After Smit and Hansen were arrested, police continued to try to link the crimes to the Vagos.
The Defamation Suit
The Vagos sued Riverside County in March 2011 for defamation. Pacheco described the lawsuit as, “just another intimidation tactic by a gang, a criminal street gang.”
Riverside County settled the suit in late July 2011 with an apology. The county issued a press release that stated that officials were “reasonably satisfied, at this time, that the Vagos International Motorcycle Club was not involved in the 2010 attacks on law enforcement officers.”
The statement went on to explain that, “Any emotionally charged or colorful remarks make by, or at the direction of, the former district attorney, Rod Pacheco, during the heat of the investigation which were expressly or impliedly offensive to the Vagos are unfortunate.”