Michigan football's Mazi Smith pleads guilty to lesser weapon charge; sentencing on Dec. 29

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Michigan football star Mazi Smith pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor weapon charge Thursday as part of plea deal that could allow him to avoid a criminal record.

The felony charge he faced was dismissed during the hearing.

Smith, 21, is expected to be sentenced later this month under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, often referred to as HYTA. It allows young adults to avoid a criminal record if they successfully complete all conditions given to them.

During Thursday’s hearing, Smith, a senior co-captain for the Wolverines, admitted to carrying a Glock 19 gun in an illegal way while operating a vehicle Oct. 7.

In this screen capture from YouTube, University of Michigan football player Mazi Smith, 21, is sworn in as he appeared before Judge J. Cedric Simpson from his attorney John Shea's office Thursday, December 8, 2022. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, a felony, nearly two months after the traffic stop.
In this screen capture from YouTube, University of Michigan football player Mazi Smith, 21, is sworn in as he appeared before Judge J. Cedric Simpson from his attorney John Shea's office Thursday, December 8, 2022. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, a felony, nearly two months after the traffic stop.

Details of the traffic stop

In an Ann Arbor police report released Thursday afternoon under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act, new details emerged about what Smith said during the stop .

“I was riding around with it because people are starting to know me more and I don’t feel comfortable,” Smith told police, according to the report.

Police said Smith had the handgun and three loaded magazines — two in his pocket — when he was stopped for speeding around 9:30 a.m.

According to police, Smith admitted to speeding and told an officer he was running late. He had somewhere to be at 9:30 a.m. and it was already 9:35.

While seated in the back of the patrol vehicle, Smith asked: “You think I am going to be in any trouble?” the report said. “I was speeding … I just literally got in my car, and I just took my CPL class.”

In a hurry with a gun

Police said Smith went on to say he was trying to put the gun in the case and lock it and the case wouldn’t lock.

“It wasn’t loaded, I just had the gun up front,” Smith said, according to the report. “I was in such a rush I didn’t put it in the case and lock it up.”

His attorney, John Shea, has said Smith was in the process of getting a CPL — a concealed pistol license — at the time of the stop and now has it.

Smith was charged with a carrying a concealed weapon, a felony, nearly two months after the traffic stop. That count was dismissed Thursday as part of his guilty plea on the lesser charge, attempted possession of a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle. It is punishable by up to one year in jail.

Smith appeared before 14A-1 District Judge J. Cedric Simpson via a video connection sitting next to his attorney during Thursday’s hearing, which lasted about five minutes.

He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 29.

More:Mazi Smith will 'continue to participate' on team despite felony charge

More:Michigan football's Mazi Smith was arrested in October. Here's why charges took so long

Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith talks to reporters during the Big Ten media days on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, in Indianapolis.
Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith talks to reporters during the Big Ten media days on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, in Indianapolis.

Driving an estimated 50 mph in residential area

During a hearing to authorize the charge in his case last week, Ann Arbor police detective Jon McDonagh said an officer was in the residential area of King George Boulevard and Lockridge Drive where the speed limit is 25 miles per hour.

“She observed a newer model Dodge Ram with an Indiana plate come speeding by her at over the posted speed limit of 25,” he said, according to a transcript of the Nov. 30 hearing. “She estimated the speed of the vehicle to be traveling 35 to 40 miles per hour.”

McDonagh said he reviewed the video, estimating the truck's speed over 50 mph.

It’s unclear who owns the 2022 truck Smith was driving. Police said he was the sole occupant. Smith said it was from a dealer, according to the police report.

More:Jim Harbaugh knew about DT Mazi Smith's arrest the day it happened: 'Let the facts come out'

Michigan's Mazi Smith (58) takes the field for the spring game Saturday, April 13, 2019 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.
Michigan's Mazi Smith (58) takes the field for the spring game Saturday, April 13, 2019 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Handcuffed, brought in, released

The officer who made the stop said she saw Smith turn his body and reach from the front seat behind the passenger seat. In her training, that suggested he may be trying to conceal something.

Police have said the officer asked Smith if he had a gun in the vehicle. Smith said he did, and the officer instructed him to step out of the vehicle. Smith complied and was handcuffed. The gun was registered to Smith, but he didn’t have a valid CPL.

“He was subsequently arrested and brought back to the station for processing and later released,” McDonagh said. “They ended up recovering a Glock 19 handgun, one 30-round mag, a 24-round mag, and a 15-round mag.”

Smith was arraigned on the weapon charge Dec. 1.

In this screen capture from YouTube, University of Michigan football player Mazi Smith, 21, appeared before Judge J. Cedric Simpson from his attorney John Shea's office Thursday, December 8, 2022. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, a felony, nearly two months after the traffic stop.
In this screen capture from YouTube, University of Michigan football player Mazi Smith, 21, appeared before Judge J. Cedric Simpson from his attorney John Shea's office Thursday, December 8, 2022. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, a felony, nearly two months after the traffic stop.

“He was asked whether there was a weapon in the car,” Shea said at the arraignment. “He was honest. He was forthright. He was completely cooperative.”

Shea said it was Smith's first contact with the law.

How guns are supposed to be handled

Ann Arbor Detective Lt. Bonnie Theil said Wednesday the gun was not loaded when an officer had contact with Smith in the vehicle.

One of the magazines was found fully loaded near a single 9 mm round in the door panel, Theil said. The other two magazines were in his pocket and the gun was sitting on the floor near the backseat, she said.

If a person doesn’t have a CPL, the law requires the gun be unloaded, secured and locked in a case and separate from ammunition, Theil said.

Ann Arbor police have said Smith was released pending the prosecutor’s office review of the case.

Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit defended the charging timeline last week, saying the delay from arrest to charge was not unusual.

"This is an unremarkable timeline for cases that are submitted to us when a defendant is not in custody," he said. "If a defendant is in custody, we need to process cases faster — within 48 hours — and we have a separate queue set up to review in-custody cases. But when a defendant is not in custody, authorization of charges generally moves slower. It was a wholly unremarkable timeline when a suspect isn't in custody."

Smith, a defensive lineman, remains on the U-M football team.

Michigan defensive lineman Mazi Smith (58) pressures Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (14) during the second half Oct. 15, 2022 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.
Michigan defensive lineman Mazi Smith (58) pressures Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (14) during the second half Oct. 15, 2022 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said it was a collaborative decision among school President Santa Ono, Athletic Director Warde Manuel and Harbaugh to allow Smith to play, both after the arrest in October and after being charged last week.

U-M will play Texas Christian University in the College Football Playoff semifinal game in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31. The winner will play in the national championship game on Jan. 9.

Staff writer David Jesse contributed to this report. Contact Elisha Anderson: eanderson@freepress.com

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football's Mazi Smith pleads guilty to lesser weapon charge