Jason Smith Jr.’s attorney is accusing the city of Mobile of widtholding body-camera footage of his client’s 2018 arrest, but prosecutors say the former Auburn University receiver’s defense team would already have the video if they’d followed the proper procedures.
Smith, a McGill-Toolen graduate who played 31 games and caught 18 career receptions for the Tigers, found himself in legal trouble last fall after visiting his father at Providence Hospital. He was accused of trespassing by hospital staff and arrested for allegedly failing to obey a Mobile police officer.
Smith and his attorney, William “Jay” Casey, have disputed the charges and claim the incident was a big misunderstanding. They concede Smith was upset about the level of care his father was receiving, but claim he received mixed messages from hospital staff about whether he needed to leave the premises.
“Just because you’re getting emotional doesn’t mean that you’re dangerous or that you’re threatening anybody, it just means that you’re concerned. I don’t think Mr. Smith did anything wrong,” Casey said. “One problem we have in today’s world is everybody seems to be too uptight and, unfortunately, some people are just waiting for something to happen. This should have never gotten as far as it did.”
Underpinning the criminal case against Smith — a simple misdemeanor in Mobile Municipal Court — has been the defense’s attempts to obtain video evidence of what happened on Nov. 13, 2018 from surveillance footage taken by the hospital or the images captured on the body camera Mobile Police Department (MPD) officer Tiffany Monte was wearing when she confronted Smith, 24, about needing to leave the premisses.
The body-camera footage has become even more critical because, according to Casey, Providence Hospital does not have or will not produce any video it may have captured of Smith’s behavior. A letter from the hospital’s attorney shared with reporters seemed to suggest footage from that night doesn’t exist.
In October, Casey sent a subpoena to Monte personally asking for her to produce footage from her body camera to the defense and to attend Smith’s bench trial on Dec. 17 — something she would have had to do anyway because she was the complaining witness his misdemeanor charge is based on.
The day before trial, though, assistant city prosecutor Caroline Matthews filed a motion asking Municipal Judge Carvine Adams to throw out the subpoena because it was improperly filed. Matthews argued Casey should have requested the footage from the city through the normal discovery process instead of issuing a third-party subpoena to the officer directly without notifying the prosecution.
Despite that, Casey has accused the city of refusing to produce the body-camera footage and questioned why it filed a motion to quash his subpoena the day before Smith’s trial. He said the footage would be the most critical piece of evidence in the trial, whether it supports his client’s version of events or not.
“If this man is completely innocent or completely guilty, the video is going to show it,” Casey said. “That footage takes out any opinion, it takes out what people think or what they wanted to see, it takes out their prejudices and whatever inferences that they might have and it shows us what happened.”
Lagniappe reached out to Matthews but was redirected to the public affairs manager, Jen Zoghby, who echoed the city’s position expressed in previous court filings. She said the way the request for the footage of Smith was filed was procedurally incorrect and different from what “every other lawyer” does.
“If any lawyer follows the correct procedure, we’re happy to turn over the camera images,” she added.
While the city of Mobile has been stingy with releasing body-camera footage to the public or to third parties like the media, Lagniappe spoke to two attorneys who said it is routine for the city of Mobile to turn over evidence sought by the defense in criminal cases pursuant to the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure.
In court last week, Judge Adams allowed the defense to delay Smith’s trial in order to resubmit its request for the body-camera footage to the city. It’s currently been rescheduled for sometime in March. The city did maintain it will have a right to object to the request for the video once it’s submitted again, but after a meeting in Adams’ chambers, Casey said he believes the city will produce the footage for the trial.
Even if convicted, Smith’s alleged offenses would only result in a nominal fine at worst, but speaking to the press last week, he and his family said they are continuing to press for the video because they want the truth to come out about what really happened that night at Providence Hospital last November.
“I would like for everybody to know the truth … that I’m not what they make me seem to be,” he told a group of reporters after the hearing. “That’s not my character. I was just trying to be there for my father.”
As for his father, Jason Smith Sr. has since rebounded from the complications with kidney failure that put him in the hospital last fall. In court last week, he said he was proud of his son, not only for his accomplishments on the gridiron, but also for “standing up for what he believes in.”
“We’re all about family. We’re all about treating people fairly, and that’s all I want for him,” Smith Sr. said. “He’s a good kid, and he’s one of a kind. I wouldn’t trade him for nothing in this world.”
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