Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

July 1, 2013

Former Alto officer who shot, killed robbery suspect hired by new police department

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

ALTO — The officer who resigned the police force after a Cherokee County grand jury cleared him of legal liability in a Jan. 22 fatal shooting has taken another law enforcement job near San Antonio, reports show.

Brandon Michael Smith, who resigned from the Alto force in early April, was formally hired as a Kirby Police Department officer on May 20, records show.

The hire was listed on Texas Commission On Law Enforcement Officer Standards And Education records obtained under the Texas Open Records Act.

The city of Kirby, an enclave of San Antonio, is essentially part of  the San Antonio Metropolitan Statistical Area. Population 8,000 as of the 2010 census (Alto's population was roughly 1,225) Kirby is located in Bexar County.

Smith is still a relatively young officer. He had only five months on the job in Alto when he shot and killed James Eric Griffin, 48, a suspected convenience store robber.

Smith contends he was forced to fire at Griffin eight times to fend off an unprovoked and startling machete attack.

Griffin –  an Anderson Cherokee Community Enrichment Services patient – is believed to have been off his medication when he was killed.

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 took 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.

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.

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

Despite the seriousness of the shooting situation, Smith came highly recommended by his Alto colleagues when attempting to join another police force, according to reports.

Kirby's chief of police could not immediately be located to comment about the hire Friday. Likewise, a contact number for Officer Smith was not immediately available.

Additionally, Alto Police Chief Jeremy Jackson also could not immediately be reached Friday to indicate if Smith's departure had done anything to assuage the anger in the African American community.

The shooting happened during a rough period for the city. 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.