A northeast Ohio man brought a gun, ammunition and several knives to a showing of the latest Batman movie because he wanted to protect himself in case someone tried to replicate last month’s deadly Colorado theater shooting, his attorney said Tuesday. Scott A. Smith, 37, had no intention of causing harm or inducing panic when he brought the weapons to a Saturday showing of The Dark Knight Rises, said his attorney, Matthew Bruce. “With the recent shooting in Colorado, and the other incidents around the country in regards to threats, he felt that he needed protection,” Bruce said.
Bruce said he was referring to movie theater threats made after the deadly July 20 shooting in Aurora, Colo., where a 24-year-old man is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 at a midnight showing of the same movie.
Bruce said his client “felt a sense of fear” about going to a theater, and chose the Batman movie by complete coincidence. “Any weapons he may have had on him were solely for protection,” he said.
Smith brought the weapons to a Regal Cinemas theater in Westlake, just outside of Cleveland, and seated himself in the middle of the theater’s back row a half hour before the movie started, police said.
A theater manager and an off-duty police officer working security stopped Smith after they became suspicious of a bag he was carrying, said Westlake Police Lt. Ray Arcuri. “Why pick that movie? Why that theater? Why sit in the back all the way like that? Why bring the gun?” he said. “There’s several unanswered questions.”
Smith was arrested without incident and is currently jailed. Bruce said his client has been cooperative with officials. He was expected to be indicted on several weapons charges, but it’s still too early to determine what those charges will be, said Nicole DiSanto of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office.
Arcuri said one of the charges police may pursue for Smith is having weapons under disability. He said Smith was taking daily medication, but he would not elaborate on what that medication is. “Our contention is that he’s drug dependent,” he said. “And as a result, he should not be possessing a firearm.”
The theater manager first noticed Smith and a beige bag he carried over his shoulder, Arcuri said. When approached, Smith told the manager it had medical supplies inside. He then showed the manager a portion of the bag that didn’t reveal the weapons.
The off-duty Westlake police officer also noticed Smith and his bag. After checking with the manager, the officer followed Smith into the empty theater.
The officer said Smith consented to a search inside the theater. Arcuri said the officer was more familiar with the bag, and he knew where to look when he found a loaded 9 mm Glock pistol with two extra loaded magazines, Arcuri said. The officer also found three knives in the bag and another knife on Smith, he said. There were also medical supplies, but Arcuri would not elaborate on what they were.
When the officer asked Smith why he brought the weapons into the theater, Smith offered to put them in his car.
Arcuri applauded the off-duty officer for trusting his instincts and pursuing Smith. “For an officer to observe that, take the initiative, approach him,” he said. “Basically, avert a tragedy if he pulls a pistol out and starts shooting.”
Police searched Smith’s North Ridgeville home Monday night and found more weapons, including at least six pistols and several shotguns and rifles, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. They also found more than one bulletproof vest.
Little information is available about Smith. He is married with an infant daughter, Arcuri said. His wife told police her husband was a sleep technician for some sort of medical research, but Arcuri could not elaborate.
Smith also served a brief time in the U.S. Army. He enlisted in January 1995 and reported to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for basic training that month. He was discharged a month later, according to the Army, which did not disclose why.
Smith had no previous criminal record, Arcuri said. He said Smith did not have a concealed carry permit and should not have brought any weapon to the theater.
“Our job is to protect the community,” he said of police. “It’s not his role. If there’s a gun, it’s because our officers brought it. It’s not his job to bring the gun, it’s ours.”