JACKSON It is something out of a noir movie: wired confidants, explicit language and talk of conspiracies.
Former Assistant District Attorney Ivon Johnson taped conversations with Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith on May 9 and June 18, the last session only four days before sheriff's deputies arrested Smith on an affidavit from the attorney general's office.
In a strange turn, Smith's attorney, Jim Waide, filed the transcripts with a motion to keep the conversations, specifically Smith's use of racial slurs and profanity, out of the upcoming December trial, arguing that there is no relevance to the charges before the court.
"Neither of the above transcripts," Waide states in his motion to exclude the transcripts, "contain any evidence relevant to the present indictment, nor do they contain any evidence that incriminates Smith or McBride on any criminal offense."
Ultimately, a judge will decide whether the conversations have merit as to the guilt or innocence of the accused, but for the reader attempting to gain some perspective about the cases, the transcripts paint some of what may or may not be, as Smith describes it, "a big-ass false fantasy."
Chris Butler, 'Political Prisoner'?
Smith places Christopher Butler, who at the time of the recording was in the Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond, at the center of the struggle between the Hinds County district attorney's office and the attorney general, even referring to Butler as a "political prisoner."
The district attorney also mentions an incident, estimated through context clues to be during the early hours of June 12, when an unknown party went through the contents of Butler's jail cell.
"But somebody came to his cell," Smith tells Johnson, who was wearing a wire at the behest of the attorney general during the conversation. "I think he said around—of course it was a Saturday night, but that would be Sunday morning around 2:30 in the morning, and they said face the wall. He was like, oh, lord, what the hell? Faced the wall. And they went into his cell and started grabbing his paperwork and sh*t trying to ..."
Johnson interrupts, asking who entered the cell.
"Well, see," Smith said, "we don't know, yet."
Smith said that after Butler's family contacted him, he visited Sheriff Victor Mason and representatives from the attorney general's office at the jail.
"Well, when (Butler's) family comes to me, I go over to the sheriff's department, and they (are) all huddled up in there in Victor's office. And then they come out with different excuses; he (is) on lockdown," Smith said.
The DA added that he asked for all the visitation records, vowing to subpoena whoever searched his cell.
"So I'm going to find out who that is, and I don't give a fck who it is," Smith told the FBI and attorney general's informant. "It could be (the) motherfcking fed with intimidating a witness as well so ..." The transcript trails off.
What's the Beef?
In a separate track from the June 18 recording, Johnson cuts to the chase with Smith about the attorney general's focus on Butler, asking him, "What's their beef with Butler?"
"It ain't got nothing to do with Christopher (Butler)," Smith replies. "It's the fact that they got caught on tape."
The tape in question, the DVR recordings from Butler's home found after the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics raided it in 2011, forms the foundation of Smith's assertions that Butler was set up, although it has never been clear in the documents exactly how. Documents from Smith's attempt to dismiss the drug charges stemming from the 2011 raid describe the search of the house in a general way, but to Smith told Johnson there was much more to it.
"So my goal is by the time they understand the case," Smith said of the grand jury, "they're going to be like, and you mean (Hinds County Circuit Judge Jeff Weill) denied your motion to dismiss this case?" He expands his description of the video later on.
The video, Smith has maintained, contains evidence the agency planted evidence. The agency has repeatedly denied the allegations. Smith states in the recording that it holds damning evidence, including allegations of shooting animals and leaving parts out of their reports.
"Oh sht, how could I forget the main video? Video of plant, then, yeah that's right, shooting dogs and sht. They left that out of the report," Smith said, referring to the MBN officers that filed a report of the incident.
Later on in their conversation, Smith says he thinks the attorney general focused on Christopher Butler because of his association with the district attorney.
"So it's just they're picking on people they think are closely associated with you—?" Johnson asked Smith.
"—to try to get to you?"
"Yeah, and it ain't nothing."
"Well," Johnson said, while already wearing a wire, "I know it's going to come one day when they start picking on me."
"Well," Smith replied, "that's why we got to get that ass."
Four days later, sheriff's deputies and agents from the attorney general's office arrested Smith in the Hinds County Courthouse, and the investigation went public.
Email city reporter Tim Summers Jr. at [email protected]. Read more about the indictments of the district attorney at jfp.ms/DAFiles.