It's time to go back to work and get caught up on the local scene. The coverage about the District Attorney's arrest has picked up steam so we will pick up where we left off last week. Mollie Bryant reported in the Clarion-Ledger:
Court records highlight conflict between Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith and the state attorney general’s office, judges and the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics that pre-date his arrest last week on charges he advised and consulted with two criminal defendants he was supposed to be prosecuting.
The records also detail a dozen times in which state authorities blocked the efforts of Smith and defense attorneys to gain access to a video that purportedly shows narcotics agents planted evidence in the case against one of those defendants.
The six-count affidavit against Smith filed on June 22 alleges the district attorney advised and consulted with Darnell Turner, who was charged with aggravated assault and domestic violence, and Christopher Butler, who faces charges of embezzlement, wire fraud and possession of marijuana. Smith, who could not be reached for comment, represented Turner as a defense attorney before he was elected district attorney.
The affidavit alleges Smith assisted Butler in ways that included meeting with him in jail without his attorney present, visiting Butler’s family and pressuring a circuit judge to dismiss his drug possession charges.
The attorney general’s office also alleges Smith sent a letter to Butler’s former attorney, Sanford Knott, recommending ways to attack the state’s case....
Before his arrest, Smith told The Clarion-Ledger that Butler had video showing that evidence was planted in his case. The district attorney’s office wanted to dismiss Butler’s possession of marijuana charge, but Hinds County Circuit Judge Jeff Weill would not dismiss it, Smith said. (KF Note: Judge Weill's order denying his motion states that Mr. Smith orally asked him to dismiss the case. The order states that the D.A. should make the request in writing and state his reasons for dismissal. The D.A. did not file the required written motion.).
In 2012, Butler was indicted on a marijuana possession charge. At the time, he had already been convicted of several felonies, including possession of marijuana, sale and possession of cocaine, and motor vehicle theft.
A year before his indictment in this case, MBN searched the home of Kwanza Hilliard, who was also charged. The court records do not specify the relationship between her and Butler. During the search, agents seized cash and a video recording surveillance system, or DVR. According to court records, cameras outside the home were turned to block their typical recording paths, but agents weren’t aware of cameras inside the home.
Attorneys for Butler and Hilliard, who did not return requests for comment, made multiple attempts to view the video at MBN headquarters,according to the court records, but they were unsuccessful. Kevin Rundlett, who was representing Butler at the time, traveled to MBN’s offices three times to view the recordings, but the DVR either wasn’t there, MBN techs said they didn’t have the right equipment for the DVR or the device wouldn’t work.
Faye Peterson, former Hinds County district attorney and counsel for Hilliard, scheduled forfeiture hearings seven times that touched on the DVR, and at one of the hearings, MBN failed to bring power cords for the device, so the video couldn’t be played, court records show.
An investigator from Smith’s office watched portions of the video at MBN’s office, but agents were unable to pull up the video during a joint visit from Rundlett and Smith.
The day before a forfeiture hearing in Hilliard’s case, MBN agents arrested Butler at Hilliard’s home after finding a backpack with drugs in his truck, according to court records. Agents received another search warrant, and seized $33,000 and a house key. When Hilliard returned to her home, the hidden cameras had been ripped from the ceiling.
An MBN official did not return a request for comment.
In court records describing attempts to view the video, Rundlett wrote that he had been “advised by the District Attorney, Robert Smith, that his continued efforts to take custody of the DVR from MBN have also been resisted.”
After Judge Melvin Priester ordered the FBI to evaluate whether or not the DVR worked, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Dowdy wrote a letter to Weill in June 2013 saying the FBI had the DVR, and the agency would bring it to the judge for him to review the recordings. “By the way,” Dowdy wrote, “it will take Your Honor several weeks to view the contents of the DVR.”
By January 2014, the district attorney’s office still hadn’t reviewed the tapes. Smith filed a motion requesting the DVR be delivered to his office.
Smith brought up the video during a March hearing in Butler’s fraud and false pretense case. Although the attorney general’s office investigated and will prosecute the case, Smith appeared at the hearing, where he agreed with Butler’s attorney, Knott, that the attorney general’s office doesn’t have authority to prosecute Butler.
A spokesperson from the attorney general's office would not comment.
Of the DVR, Smith said: “And that videotape was seized by that agency and obstructed justice so that no one would see what was on that videotape which would show that Mr. Butler was framed twice. They know that.”
Priester said he “took issue” with that, had watched 12 to 16 hours of the video and “there was nothing to show,” while Smith said an expert claims the video was tampered with.
During Smith’s allegations, he said, “I can prove every last one of them,” to which Priester said, “Fine. But you know what? I don’t care.”... Rest of article.
Kingfish note: The public is only seeing part of the story as it takes place. There is another level that is under seal and seen by all the players: the judges, District Attorney, prosecutors, and lawyers but unseen by the public. The Street Committee says all parties have been filing documents under seal as they have all used the sealing process to their advantage and not always in response to something already filed. The result is it is difficult to give the public a true picture of what might be taking place until some documents see the light of day.
So there is a war with the District Attorney on one side and the Attorney General, State Auditor, several Hinds County Judges, and MBN on the other side. Stay tuned. Go get some beer and popcorn. This is going to be interesting to watch as it unfolds.