Story provided by Beverly Pettigrew Kraft, Public Information Officer, Mississippi Administrative Office of Courts
It’s been almost two months since an assailant’s bullet ripped through Judge Charlie Smith’s hip as he arrived for work at the Lauderdale County Courthouse on March 16. No arrest has been made.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is leading the investigation and East Mississippi Crimestoppers has offered a reward of up to $32,000 for information that would lead to an arrest in the shooting. Tips may be given anonymously to the Crimestoppers tip line at 855-485-8477.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to work. I am hoping that in a couple of weeks, the doctors will say that I’m ready to go back to work because I’m ready,” he said. While he hasn’t fully healed, “I’m mentally ready to go back to work. I’m ready for that. I think it would be good for me to go back to work.”
During the past two months, Judge Smith has undergone multiple surgeries to repair the bullet wound that entered his left hip, clipped his femoral artery, split the ball and socket joint in his hip and exited in front where the leg joins the torso. He was airlifted from Anderson Regional Medical Center in Meridian to Jackson and remained in the intensive care unit at the University of Mississippi Medical Center for a few days. He spent time recuperating at Methodist Rehabilitation Center before returning to Meridian several weeks ago. He still doesn’t have use of his numb left leg but hopes to recover mobility with continued healing and physical therapy. He uses a wheelchair and a walker as he recovers.
Judge Smith was on his way to his office at the Lauderdale County Courthouse when he was shot. He was the first in the parking lot on the east side of the Courthouse about 7:15 that morning. He had walked behind his truck.
“I heard this loud sound like a thunder clap, and thought lightning …knocked me down. I looked up and the sky was clear,” he recalled. He realized he had been shot.
He yelled for help. “There was a deputy around the corner who immediately came around and he radioed for help. Another deputy who was close by was also a nurse. He had his trauma kit. He knew what to do in regards to stopping the flow of blood,” Judge Smith said. “If the deputy hadn’t known what to do to stop the flow of blood, I would have bled out right there.” An ambulance was close. Anderson Regional Medical Center was close. “ I am so blessed. Just by the grace of God, I’m here. I think He put the right people in the right place at the right time or I wouldn’t be here…. It’s a miracle. All I can say is God just said it wasn’t my time.”
He was strengthened by prayers of family, friends, and strangers. “It was like a zillion prayers.”
He did not see or hear the shooter.
“We have gone back over case files while I was sitting on the bench. They reviewed cases and clients I had as an attorney…and when I was a prosecutor. When you look back at it, there are a lot more people who might be mad about how a case turned out,” he said.
Smith has been a chancellor since January 2019, hearing family law cases such as divorces, child custody, and support, adoption, and guardianships. He served as Youth Court prosecutor 1983-2014, and as Lauderdale County Prosecutor for more than three years. He maintained a general law practice in Meridian before he took the bench.
He said he had never been threatened or felt threatened. Training for new judges included courtroom and personal security, but he never thought that he would be attacked. “I have never ever really worried about my personal security – when I practiced law, when I was a prosecutor and as a judge. We talked about it, thought about it in general. I had never been concerned about anyone personally trying to do anything to me.”
Now, he pays more attention to things such as ordinary traffic.
“I don’t know that it’s going to change my life. I’m going to get up and enjoy the day and go to work. I’m not going to be paranoid about it, but it is a wake-up call. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”