Pct. 4 Constable race headed to runoff between incumbent John Smith, Josh Joplin

Left: John Smith, Right: Josh Joplin

Former Precinct 4 Constable John G. Smith is attempting to win back his seat from incumbent Josh Joplin.

Candidate filings for the March 3 primary elections show Smith, Joplin, Curtis Wulf and Charles Garrett have filed to run as Republicans. No Democrats have filed to run for the seat.

Precinct 4 is the largest in Smith County and covers Winona and most of the Chapel Hill area. It runs from just west of Farm-to-Market Road 14 to Texas Highway 64 East, outside of Loop 323.

Smith was defeated in 2016 amid backlash after he suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head while intoxicated.

Smith held the office from 2006 until his defeat in 2016. He was narrowly defeated by Joplin in a primary runoff election, with Joplin going on to win the general election later that year.

Joplin was a relative newcomer at the time, with experience as a K-9 handler and a police chief of a small municipal utilities district. He was just 26 when sworn in.

From June 2018 to February 2019, Smith worked with the city of Winona in a bid to reactivate its police department, which shuttered in 2015. Smith was sworn in as the city’s police chief in September. In February 2019 he submitted his resignation, stating that the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement requirements for reactivating the department were more than he had expected.

The city of Winona said at the time that recent infrastructure problems in the city created unexpected expenses, prompting officials to decide not to reactivate the police department.

Due to the department’s deactivation in 2015, it was not recognized as an active police department with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, and Smith was never able to conduct any law enforcement operations during his five months as chief. Most of the equipment used in anticipation of setting up the department was owned by Smith.

Smith’s legal troubles

Smith has a history of legal trouble that came into play in the 2016 election.

He was arrested in February 1992 for drunken driving by the Tyler Police Department. It took three Tyler police officers and four Smith County deputies to subdue him upon reaching the jail, according to reports.

TCOLE records show Smith’s peace officer’s license was valid from Feb. 4, 1988, through Jan. 15, 1992. He held a telecommunications operator license beginning in 1996. In 1997 he was recertified for his peace officer’s license.

In November 2001 Smith admitted to having consumed as many as six beers prior to overturning a Smith County Sheriff’s Office undercover vehicle. He was not arrested for the incident, but was suspended for five days and reassigned. He was not asked to give a blood sample or breath specimen, according to the Department of Public Safety crash report. However, the report did cite alcohol as a factor in the wreck.

In January 2015, Smith shot himself in the head after drinking and fighting with his wife. Smith maintains he has no memory of the event, but investigation reports reveal he had been more than three times the legal limit for blood alcohol content.

The reports quote one of his children as telling an interviewer, “Daddy gets drunk and passes out sometimes.”

When contacted for comment at the time, Smith confirmed his license had been previously suspended. However, in an April 19, 2016, editorial board meeting with the Tyler Morning Telegraph, Smith indicated he had worked in dispatch as he went through training, rather than because his license had been suspended. Smith also said at the time that he drank in the past, but no longer does so.

The last day to register to vote in the March 3 primary elections is Feb. 3. Early voting begins Feb. 18.

Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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