Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith and Assistant District Attorney Jamie McBride have been indicted on felony charges that they hindered prosecution of a criminal defendant.
Grand jurors acted Wednesday, a day after Attorney General Jim Hood’s office dropped six similar misdemeanor charges against Smith that had been filed without an indictment. A defense lawyer in that case argued the 45-year-old Smith could only be charged by grand jury indictment, and Hood agreed to drop the charges “out of an abundance of caution.”
The indictment alleged Smith conspired with McBride, former Assistant Hinds County District Attorney Ivon Johnson and others to hinder prosecution of a man named Christopher Butler.
Smith said in a March court hearing that he could prove a video that supposedly proved drugs were found at Butler’s house had been tampered with. Hood’s office later brought fraud charges against Butler that are still pending. Smith claims Hood, a fellow Democrat, criminally charged him to destroy Smith’s credibility as he investigated Hood’s employees for wrongdoing.
The indictment charges two felony counts of hindering prosecution against both Smith and McBride, covering four separate cases against Butler. Smith was also indicted on a misdemeanor count for meeting with Butler in jail and advising his attorney, mirroring the original misdemeanor charge.
Each felony charge could bring five years in prison and a $5,000 fine in event of a conviction. The misdemeanor could bring a fine of $500, but conviction on even that lesser charge would remove Smith as chief prosecutor of Mississippi’s largest county.
Jim Waide, Smith’s lawyer, didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to a phone call from The Associated Press.
On Tuesday, he told The Clarion-Ledger that he believed Hood’s office was trying to judge-shop, dropping the misdemeanor charges before senior County Court Judge James Bell, who was named to hear them after the county’s active judges recused themselves. Waide said he believed Hood would rather have retired Court of Appeals Judge Larry Roberts of Meridian, who was named to preside in a number of circuit court cases, hear the charges.
Hood spokeswoman Rachael Ring said Smith had been booked on the charges and released without bail.
Ring said Hood’s office would respond Thursday to questions about McBride. A copy of the indictment she sent out had McBride’s name blacked out, but the name was listed in online court records. It’s unclear if McBride has a lawyer. Last month, McBride filed an affidavit saying two assistant attorney generals had come to him with fears that Smith was trying to indict them.
“It brings me no pleasure to prosecute one of our own,” Hood, a former district attorney, said in a statement. “But a Hinds County grand jury has indicted Mr. Smith for serious violations of the law that hamper the ability of our criminal justice system to do its job.”
Johnson waived indictment and pleaded guilty in July in federal court to conspiring to accept a bribe in exchange for getting bail amounts reduced in an agreement with prosecutors. Johnson said he took at least $15,000 from 2013 to 2016 in exchange for getting bonds reduced.
Johnson is scheduled to be sentenced in October, and faces up to five years in prison.
Details of the months-long dispute remain murky because multiple circuit court cases are under seal.
Smith, meanwhile, faces a state bar complaint relating to his actions in a March hearing before County Court Judge Melvin Priester Sr. that Priester later described as “raucous and unprofessional.”