The spotlight was shone brightly on the Smith County District Attorney’s Office and the upcoming election for the top seat in the office, as an audit released in January found numerous policy infractions through an audit report, with a candidate for District Attorney listed as the top violator.
In the audit, released by Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham on Tuesday, Jan. 23, information was detailed regarding current Smith County District Attorney’s Office prosecutor and candidate for District Attorney in the upcoming election Jacob Putman, who was cited for having case dismissals and reductions in cases without the proper authorization of Bingham or First Assistant District Attorney April Sikes.
In total, a total of 173 dismissals and reductions that were against the policies of the Smith County District Attorney’s Office were found. Putman had the largest number of incorrect dismissals and reductions by an attorney in the Smith County District Attorney’s Office in a five-year window from 2013-2017, with a total of 48 violations.
Assistant District Attorney Brian Jiral held the second-most violations in the office with 47 instances, according to an internal report. Both Putman and Jiral remain employed in the Smith County District Attorney’s Office.
The audit of the Smith County District Attorney’s Office was ordered by Bingham after a previously charged man in Smith County killed a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper along Interstate 45 in Freestone County in November 2017.
To respond to the information released in the audit of the office, Putman’s campaign released a letter dated Thursday, Jan. 25, entitled: “We WILL Set the Record Straight,” in which the candidate stated he would work to disprove what he called “lies” against his record.
“This tactic was designed to make me look weak and/or guilty,” said Putman, in the statement. “My team and I are in the process of looking through all of the documents, and will be making definitive statements very soon. I want to be clear when I tell you that we will stand and fight back against the lies, disinformation and slander against me and my record by the longtime political establishment here in Smith County… My campaign will provide a strong and fact based defense to the blatantly false attacks that have been pervasive the last few weeks.”
Putman called a press conference on Monday, Jan. 29. In a prepared statement, Putman said he believes the audit of the Smith County District Attorney’s Office was a political tactic to sway outcome of the upcoming election.
“This ‘audit’ released was not a neutral effort to report facts,” said Putman. “It was an unethical attempt by my opponent and the District Attorney to influence the election. This was a calculated effort to make me appear weak on crime. Nothing could be further from the truth... These slanderous attacks on my record of supposed policy violations are ridiculous. They are dirty politics at their worst.”
According to Putman, the releasing of the finding of the Smith County District Attorney’s Office is a collaborated effort between the current District Attorney, Bingham, and Putman’s opponent in the upcoming primary election, Alicia Barkley, who worked as a Smith County Assistant District Attorney from 1995 to 2002 and who had previously challenged Bingham for the District Attorney’s seat. Barkley announced her candidacy against Putman in December.
“My opponent and Matt Bingham’s plan is not limited to misconstruing my records, lying about the past, and claiming all of his prosecutors just can’t follow the rules,” said Putman. “He and my opponent intend to ‘expose’ a case of my every week or two. In fact, my opponent was going through files in Matt Bingham’s office as recently as this past Friday. They do this by picking a case and releasing to the media portions of the facts when I’m in trial and unable to respond.”
In regards to dismissals attributed to Putman while working in the Smith County Sheriff’s Office, Putman said all has to be weighed when working as a prosecutor.
“As a prosecutor, you look at all the evidence on each case,” said Putman. “Whether someone is offered prison time, probation, or jail time is dependent on the facts and circumstances of each case. You can’t convict someone on a headline. If you could, we wouldn’t need jury trials. The specific facts of each case are important.”
One of the cases listed in the audit report was a dismissal of charges in a prior case against Dabrett Black of Lindale, who became known as the suspect in the Thanksgiving Day shooting of Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Damon Allen.
According to the arrest affidavit in the case, Allen was sitting in his patrol unit when Black, the driver of a car he pulled over for speeding on Interstate 45 south of Fairfield, opened fire with a rifle.
In March 2015, Black was charged with Assault on a Public Servant during an incident in which he attempted to grab a weapon from former Smith County Deputy Wesley Dean, who was responding to a call regarding an assault when the noticed Black walking in the roadway.
According to the report on the incident from the Smith County Sheriff’s Department, Dean believed Black may have been involved and attempted to stop him. Black responded by attacking Dean, leaving the officer with a broken nose and two black eyes. Dean stated that he attempted to draw his weapon in fear for his life, but Black attempted to disarm the officer.
Inside the Smith County District Attorney’s Office, Bingham stated he was unaware that Putman had cut a plea deal with Black, who had dismissed the charge regarding the attempt to take the Dean’s weapon, while also downgrading the assault charge to a misdemeanor. He also said the spaces on the plea agreement paperwork where the authorizing signatures of Bingham or Sikes were blank.
“I didn’t have a crystal ball when I handled the Dabrett Black case,” said Putman. “I pled him to 12 months because the victim didn’t want to testify, the Defendant had no prior felonies and was a three -time deployed combat veteran, and even if we got the maximum punishment, he would have been up for parole in 15 months. The difference between my plea deal and the maximum punishment was 3 months guaranteed confinement. I followed the policies in place at the time as already demonstrated. I also notified our grand jury attorney immediately when Dabrett Black reoffended in July of 2017. I made sure they knew to have the judge increase his bond upon indictment since the judge initially set a very low bond of $15,000.
Putman also discussed issues within the office with Bingham, saying he believed prosecutors had the approval to dismiss cases, if a part of a plea deal, according to the December 2012 Smith County District Attorney’s policies.
“The accusation that has been made against me is that these dismissals were a violation of policy,” said Putman. “At no time did I ever believe I was violating policy. When Matt Bingham went on T.V. before Christmas ranting about the policies he says I broke, he was holding a copy of the December 2012 policies. First, let me say that all employees on December 7, 2012 were required to read this, sign it, and return it. We were not allowed under any circumstances to keep a copy of it to review later… The policies of the DA’s office have changed in writing many times since 2012. In addition to what was in writing, based on what Matt Bingham and April Sikes told us, myself and most of the other prosecutors who have worked in the DA’s office believed we were authorized to reduce cases and dismiss cases if the dismissal was a part of a plea in another case… We believed we were authorized to dismiss cases if it was a part of a plea agreement.”
Putman also seemingly defended other prosecutors mentioned in the audit of the Smith County District Attorney’s Office.
“It is shameful for someone who calls himself a leader to claim that every one of his prosecutors went rogue to try to save face,” said Putman. “These prosecutors are good lawyers who chose to make less money in order to serve this community and see justice done. As prosecutors, we believe in laws and rules. We strive to follow the rules and enforce the laws.”
He also took the time to reiterate his reasons for seeking election as Smith County District Attorney, while also promising to implement policies that are understandable and followed by prosecutors and to work together with local law enforcement.
“I am running for District Attorney because I believe in truth, justice, and aggressive prosecution with integrity,” said Putman. “I have faithfully served the citizens of Smith County for nine years. I am committed to upholding the rule of law, to ensuring everyone is treated equally, and to aggressively prosecuting criminals to keep this community safe. Most of all, I am committed to truth, transparency and accountability. I am committed to having clear and concise policies that every prosecutor will know… I pledge to vigorously uphold the rule of law and our Constitution. Justice will be applied equally to everyone, regardless of age, race, or social status, including elected officials. Our DA’s office will have crystal clear policies and be filled with people of unquestioned integrity and professionalism, and we will cooperate with our brave law enforcement officers to protect the citizens of Smith County.”
Putman announced his candidacy for Smith County District Attorney in February 2017, after Bingham indicated he would not run for another term.
A Tyler native and graduate of Grace Community School, Putman attended and graduated from Wheaton College, then later attended law school at Oklahoma City University, graduating in 2008. He has been a prosecutor in the Smith County District Attorney’s Office for nine years.
Early voting for the March Primaries is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 20 through Monday, Feb. 26, with the Primary Election Day set for Tuesday, March 6.