COLUMBUS, Ohio – An Ohio police officer died two days after he was critically wounded when a man opened fire on a SWAT team trying to arrest him for allegedly setting his estranged wife’s house ablaze, officials said.
Columbus police said Officer Steven M. Smith died late Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by his family. He was 54 years old.
Lincoln Rutledge, of Columbus, shot Smith and held police at bay for several hours on Sunday after officers tried to arrest him for the fire, which was set the day before, police said.
Ohio Fraternal Order of Police President Jay McDonald released a statement following Smith’s death, saying Smith was no stranger to the dangers of police work.
McDonald said Smith had been shot in the line of duty before, in 2013.
“While others might have turned away, he heroically returned to duty,” said McDonald. “We join his family and friends in celebrating his life and service while mourning his senseless death.”
A Franklin County Municipal Court judge earlier Tuesday ordered the 44-year-old Rutledge held without bond on charges of felonious assault and aggravated arson. The judge cited concerns about a risk to public safety if Rutledge was released. A public defender assigned to Rutledge declined to discuss the charges against him.
Rutledge’s former employer, Ohio State University, and others have commented on Rutledge’s erratic behavior in recent months.
A statement from the university says Rutledge resigned April 3, 2016 as an information technology security engineer there while on a leave that he had requested Feb. 1.
“His I.T. and building access were revoked on March 23, 2016, when he began to behave erratically while on leave,” the statement said. Ohio State said it arranged for wellness checks on Rutledge and encouraged him to contact its employee assistance program.
WCMH-TV reported that university police documents dated March 22 and March 23 said a co-worker told police he saw weapons, including a gun and ammunition when he went to check on Rutledge and that Rutledge began to swing a hammer at him.
Rutledge’s estranged wife had told police that since mid-March, Rutledge had threatened her with gun violence and had been sought for a court-ordered mental-health evaluation, but no one could find him, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
Smith was a 27-year veteran of the Columbus police force. He leaves behind his wife of 32 years and two adult children.
He’s the 54th Columbus police officer killed in the line of duty.
A preliminary hearing for Rutledge has been set for April 21.