Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

April 29, 2013

Alto officer who killed robbery suspect resigns from police force

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

ALTO — With hostility from the black community at a record high, a police officer recently cleared of criminal liability in the Jan. 22 fatal shooting of a suspected convenience store robber has opted not to return to his job.

Brandon Michael Smith resigned from the Alto Police Force effective the first of the month, City Secretary Sonja Dillard confirmed Friday.

“I do have a copy of his resignation – which we accepted,”  Dillard said.

No other police officials were available Friday to comment on whether someone will be hired to replace Smith. Alto Police Chief Jeremy Jackson was out of the office, as was Officer Troy Ansley, who occasionally sits in as acting chief in Jackson's ab-sence.

This resignation was tendered in the wake of the fatal shooting of James Eric Griffin, 48, an Anderson Cherokee Community Enrichment Services patient believed to have been off his medication when he was killed.

Smith, an Alto officer with only five months of on-the-job police experience, contends he was forced to fire at Griffin eight times to fend off an unprovoked and startling machete attack.

The shooting took place down the road from a convenience store where Griffin displayed a machete tucked in his waistband to a store clerk as he stole a pack of cigarettes.

The January incident inflamed Alto's black community, provoking outraged accusations of professional callousness, police brutality,  and even racism. Both Griffin and Officer Smith, incidentally, are black.

Even Paul Allen Robbins of Lufkin — the attorney representing Smith in the grand jury hearing —  recently said he doubts Smith's safety could be guaranteed if he returned to duty in Alto. Robbins was speaking to the press on his client's behalf.

“We don't want any backlash,” the attorney said previously. “ … No one wants this kind of conflict in their community."

Public outrage grew even more profound after Smith was spotted in a police car going to lunch in town with a colleague. Even though Smith was still off active duty at the time, black residents incorrectly assumed Smith was allowed to patrol the city before the investigation into the shooting was finished.

Things have been tentative in the city for awhile. The Alto police force had only been reinstated about 13 months before the shooting after having been sent on a six-month furlough, then fired and replaced in 2011.