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FBI Investigates Fatal Shooting by IRS Agent : Inquiry: Civil rights probe focuses on Bakersfield man’s slaying by off-duty special agent after a traffic dispute on the Golden State Freeway. District attorney’s office is also reviewing the case.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The FBI has launched a preliminary civil rights investigation into the death of a Bakersfield man who was shot and killed by an off-duty IRS agent after a traffic dispute on the Golden State Freeway in Arleta in July.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice confirmed this week that his agency requested the investigation into the shooting of Mickey Jay Smith after a complaint filed with the department. FBI spokesman John Hoos said the investigation was opened Sept. 28 and its results will be forwarded to attorneys at the Justice Department’s civil rights division, who will decide whether to prosecute.

Federal civil rights laws prohibit law enforcement agents from violating the constitutional rights of others.

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The July 16 shooting has also been investigated by the major crimes division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Lt. Daniel Lang, who heads the division, declined to comment on the investigation pending a review of the case by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

According to police and coroner reports examined by The Times, the incident started shortly before 7:30 p.m. on the Golden State Freeway, where Smith was a passenger in a rental truck driven by his friend Chris Stayton. During a lane change, Stayton swerved in front of a blue Oldsmobile driven by an off-duty IRS agent identified by police as Paul Hamilton Davis, 45.

Stayton’s account, contained in an LAPD preliminary homicide investigation report, is that Smith began taunting the agent, who followed Stayton and Smith, both 21, off the Branford Avenue exit. Both vehicles stopped along the side of the road, near an industrial complex. There, Stayton said, Smith got out of the truck shouting obscenities and repeatedly shoved Davis, who subsequently shot and killed Smith.

The Times obtained the police investigation report from the victim’s mother, Lee Craig, who received a copy from police. LAPD detectives confirmed that Craig was sent a copy of the report.

Davis declined to be interviewed, but his attorney, Gerald L. Chaleff, said that Davis initially followed Stayton and Smith off the freeway because he feared that their actions on the freeway posed a threat to the public.

“Mr. Davis’ stance was that he was performing his job as a law enforcement officer,” Chaleff said.

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Stayton and other witnesses told police they did not realize that Davis was a law enforcement officer until after the shooting, when police arrived and the agent, dressed in business attire, flashed his badge at officers.

“He never said anything,” Stayton said in an interview Friday. “He never said a word and I was waiting for him to say something because Mike (Smith) was yelling at him.”

Stayton said although Smith was acting aggressively, he did not believe that this friend posed enough of a threat to the agent to warrant the shooting. “He could have just pushed him backward and Mike would have fell down he was so drunk,” Stayton said. “But instead he shot him.”

According to the LAPD report, Davis is 6 feet, 4 inches and weighs 205 pounds. Smith was 5 feet, 10 inches and weighed 160 pounds.

Police said that at the time of the shooting Smith was unarmed. A coroner’s toxicology report found that his blood-alcohol level, at 0.18%, was more than twice the legal driving limit of 0.08%.

“When all of the investigation is done it will be seen that Mr. Davis did not in any way violate the rights of Mr. Smith,” Chaleff said.

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As a special agent, Davis was licensed to carry a firearm. Agents in the IRS criminal investigation division handle such dangerous assignments as probes of money laundering and organized crime. An IRS manual for special agents states that “a firearm may be discharged only as a last resort when in the considered opinion of the special agent there is danger of loss of life or serious bodily injury to the agent or another person.”

IRS officials have declined to comment on whether their agency is conducting its own investigation.

“Obviously it was an incident that involved an IRS employee, but it was after hours and it did not involve IRS activities,” IRS spokesman Robert Giannangeli said. Davis was reassigned to an office job after the shooting, which Giannangeli said is routine during any investigation of agents.

Since the shooting, Smith’s mother has written congressmen, contacted witnesses and kept in touch with police in an effort to find out what happened to her son. She said she was not the one who alerted the Justice Department to the shooting, and the Justice Department has declined to disclose who did.

Of the 8,599 complaints filed with the Justice Department last year, the FBI investigated 3,212, a department spokesman said. The FBI is the investigative arm of the Department of Justice.

Smith was the father of a 16-month-old daughter, whom he took care of between temporary jobs as a laborer in the oil business, Craig said.

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“Everybody called him Mr. Mom,” Craig said. “She was his whole life.”

“I can’t imagine my son jeopardizing his life when he knew this guy had a gun,” Craig said.

“There’s just a lot of things I don’t understand.”

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