Robert Shuler Smith, the Hinds County district attorney and a target of multiple criminal probes by Attorney General Jim Hood in recent years, will challenge Hood for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Hood, considered the frontrunner for his party’s nomination as the only statewide Democratic official, and Smith are longtime adversaries. Hood brought three cases against Smith, the top prosecutor in the state’s largest county by population, in as many years on various felony and misdemeanor charges. Two juries acquitted Smith, and a third was undecided.
Smith confirmed his candidacy in a text message to Mississippi Today on Saturday morning.
In an earlier message, Smith demurred when asked about reports that he qualified to run for the office, instead calling for a “civil rights investigation on the modern day lynching I endured for years. Mine was definitely not a hoax!”
Smith was making an apparent reference to actor Jussie Smollett. Earlier this week, Smollett, who is black and openly gay, was arrested in Chicago for filing a false police report about an attack he allegedly endured by men sympathetic to President Donald Trump. Police later said Smollett staged the attack and that his wounds were likely self-inflicted.
Smith and Hood’s contentious relationship was apparent in each Smith trials, which revealed stories of threats and fist fights between staff members in both offices. In 2016 and 2017, Hood’s office failed twice in Hinds County to convict Smith of conspiracy to hinder prosecution.
The first trial in Hinds County ended in a mistrial after the judge discovered one juror was a police department employee and had attempted to influence the other jurors. A second Hinds County jury acquitted Smith on the conspiracy charges last summer.
After the two failed Hinds County prosecutions, Hood pursued felony aggravated stalking charges in 2018 stemming from a domestic incident in Rankin County after Smith’s ex-girlfriend, Christie Edwards, alleged that Smith shoved her and threatened her with a gun at his mobile home in Pearl in August of 2015.
An attorney for Smith said then that the attorney general’s office offered Smith a plea deal that involved him stepping down from office, saying there was “no way” Smith would be acquitted in Rankin County.
“I call it a modern day Emmett Till to try to use the citizens here, which they didn’t do. They tried to use the citizens of Rankin County to do their dirty work and they didn’t do it. So I applaud them,” Smith said last year after the jury found him not guilty on the robbery charges.
Smith won reelection in 2015 with more than 70 percent of the vote over Stanley Alexander, an assistant attorney general in Hood’s office. Smith’s entrance into this year’s governor’s race sets up a dramatic primary with Hood, who announced his candidacy in October, and lesser known Democratic candidate Velesha P. Williams, who announced in December.
The Republican gubernatorial primary has also tightened in the past week. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, considered the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, now faces Bill Waller Jr., a former state supreme court chief justice and freshman state Rep. Robert Foster, R-Hernando.