Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Larry Jefferson did not have the authority to order the release of a suspected drug dealer so the defendant could attend his child’s graduation, a state appeal court ruled last month.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport vacated Jefferson’s May 15 ruling that ordered Ouachita Parish Jay Russell to release Eric Jamar Smith, 33, of Monroe, from Ouachita Correctional Center where he is awaiting trial on drug charges.
Russell’s office submitted a writ application to the Second Circuit, challenging Jefferson’s decision to release Smith because Smith is currently detained under a parole hold.
The state Board of Pardons and Parole issued an order on Feb. 6 that Smith not be released on parole.
“As such, the only venue authorized to release Eric Smith prior to his revocation hearing is the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, which has exclusive jurisdiction over the efficacy of such ‘parole holds,’” stated Russell’s writ application.
Smith was arrested by state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries agents on Jan. 19 on a host of charges including possession of methamphetamine, possession of Ecstasy, possession of Xanax among others.
“Mr. Smith is also a convicted felon who, at the time of his arrest on the current charges, was on parole until 2023,” stated Russell’s writ application.
During a March 26 court hearing, Smith pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Jefferson’s order allowed Smith to be released from custody into the care of a private person, “unguarded by any peace officer, without surety, so that Mr. Smith could attend his child’s elementary school graduation and an associated private party,” according to Russell’s writ application.
Russell declined to comment.
When asked why Russell submitted the writ application instead of Fourth Judicial District Attorney Steve Tew’s office, the sheriff’s spokesman, Glenn Springfield, said Jefferson’s order was directed to the Sheriff’s Office because the court order involved an inmate in the sheriff’s custody. The matter did not involve the district attorney, according to Springfield.
Russell’s writ application argued that Jefferson’s order set bad policy and would endanger public welfare.
“Here, the Sheriff as keeper of the parish jail is entrusted to keep persons accused of serious criminal activities in custody pending disposition of those charges unless and until appropriately released on bail,” stated Russell’s writ application. “Louisiana’s bail statutes specify that a person charged with the crimes of which Mr. Smith is accused cannot be released on bail without surety. The Order complained of would require the Sheriff to essentially break the law.”
James B. Mullaly, an attorney with the New Orleans law firm of Usry & Weeks, filed the writ application on Russell’s behalf.
The Second Circuit granted Russell’s writ application on May 17.
“...the trial court had no authority to order Smith’s temporary release on the cases pending against Smith in Ouachita Parish,” stated the Second Circuit’s order.
The Second Circuit order was signed by judges Jeff Cox, Jay McCallum and Milton Moore III, of Monroe.
More than a month before Jefferson ordered his release, Smith wrote Jefferson a handwritten letter, imploring the judge for help. Smith’s April 5 letter was filed into the court record.
“I don’t know how true this is but I was told that they are no longer holding you with a P&P (Probation and Parole) hold if you are charged with a drug charge,” Smith wrote. “I just served 3 (and a half) years off a nine-year sentence for possession of one gram of marijuana (third offense). I’ll admit that I have struggled with drug addiction since I was 15-years-old, but never have I been offered any assistance with the problem. Every time I’ve been caught with a minute amount of narcotics I’ve always been fed to the wolves, placed in penitentiaries around rapists and murderers and I was only caught with personal marijuana and an anxiety pill or two.”
Fourth Judicial District Court records show numerous arrests on Smith’s record, including more than 15 arrests from 2006 to 2018 for possession of marijuana, Xanax, Lortab among other drugs as well as charges of violation of probation, contempt of court and many more.
Smith was arrested Jan. 27, 2018 after the sheriff’s street crimes unit conducted an operation to catch local drug dealers. During the operation, a deputy made contact with Smith across social media, and Smith agreed to bring methamphetamine to a local motel.
When Smith arrived at the motel room with meth on his person, he was taken into custody and booked on possession of the drug.
In that case, Smith failed to show up for court in September 2018 and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.
A few days later, Smith was arrested on three new charges stemming from a Monroe police investigation of theft that led to Smith’s home. The Sept. 13, 2018 arrest report indicated Smith’s house was known to be frequently used for manufacturing and selling meth. A child day care center was located next to Smith’s home on Masonic Avenue in Monroe.
Police found meth and heroin inside Smith’s home.