APD apologizes for mishandling investigation

The Austin Police Department is apologizing for how they handled a drunk driving case that left a teenager in a vegetative state.

The teenager, Kia Smith, was run down by Lauren Cherry in 2012. On Thursday, Lauren Cherry, 27, pleaded guilty in a Travis County Court House. As part of her plea deal, she will get probation.  

"I think Ms. Cherry should have went to prison, she should feel how it feels to be locked up and never be able to be yourself," said Smith's grandmother Katheren Henry.

Smith's family believes that APD is the reason that Cherry isn't serving jail time.

"I feel like justice was not given to us because the police department, because of their doing," Henry said, adding, "destroying things and not protecting evidence."

The Travis County District Attorney's office admitted that they faced an uphill battle in taking this case to trial.

"If you take a look at the Brady Notice that we filed with the District Clerk's Office you will see the challenges we were faced with on the outset," said Assistant DA Marc Chavez.

That notice, according to the DA's office, outlines some of the evidence collected by APD and what happened to it. The list includes: video of a field sobriety test recorded over or lost by an officer; Kia's bracelet that was found on the road but not preserved for evidence; Evidence collected from Lauren Cherry's car was not matched or compared to Kia's DNA; and Kia's phone was picked up and taken by someone other than law enforcement.

"That's not exclusively it," said Chavez. "It goes all the way through trial preparation which included a Motion to Suppress, in which some evidence was ruled inadmissible."

Smith's family is heartbroken over the outcome of the case.

"Some life was taken," said Henry. "The Police should take responsibility for what happened today, we are hurting because of them."

The Austin Police Department sent FOX 7 the following statement:

"Our sincere apologies go out to Ekia Smith and her family. The Austin Police Department recognizes that mistakes were made during the investigation. As an organization we realize this is a serious matter and addressed the issues to ensure the same mistakes are not made again. APD seeks to use best practices for the successful prosecution of criminal investigations."

Sixteen-year-old Kia Smith was not in the courtroom to hear Lauren Cherry utter the words "guilty," but present were her grandmother, her mother and sister, who sat in the front row.

"The last time I was talking to my sister, she was laughing with her friend, and she was laughing and she was happy," said Kedrin Perry, fighting back tears. "You took my best friend, you took my everything, my sister was my everything. I love my sister to death and you took all of the memories we were supposed to share, you took that away from us."

And while APD has expressed remorse, Perry says Lauren Cherry has not, and she doesn't understand why.

"Sometimes just saying 'I'm sorry' means a lot because we have to live like this with Kia every single day. Every day she gets to walk and do what she wants to do."

Lauren Cherry is scheduled to be formally sentenced on October 23. The DA's office has recommended Cherry serve ten years of probation. During that decade, she'll also speak three times a year to an organization like MADD. They are also asking that she spends a weekend in jail on every anniversary of the crash -- and for the next three years, that she have an ignition interlock in her car.

*Kia Smith's family also filed a civil lawsuit against Cherry and the bars that served her. That case was settled in 2013. *

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