A jury of 12 Lea County residents returned a verdict of not guilty on Tuesday for a Hobbs man charged with robbery of an American flag.
The jury found Casey Smith of Hobbs not guilty on Tuesday in the Fifth Judicial District Court in Lovington in a trial presided over by the Judge William Shoobridge.
The alleged robbery case against Smith involved a dispute in June 2020 in front of Walgreens on the corner of Joe Harvey and Grimes regarding an American flag.
The video capturing some of the incident went viral on social media and was covered by regional media outlets.
The allegations involved a Black Lives Matter protester displaying an American flag upside down. Smith approached the individual and asked multiple times for the flag to be displayed respectfully, to which the protester refused to right the flag and became hostile, according to the defense.
According to a Hobbs Police Department’s criminal complaint, Jovanny Hernandez, was protesting with an upside-down flag and yelling “Black Lives Matter,” and “ACAB”(all cops are [expletive]).
After the flag was not flown upright, Smith removed the flag and put it in his truck. He was subsequently charged with third-degree felony robbery, which carries a possible term of three years imprisonment.
The assistant district attorney for the Fifth Judicial District put on three witnesses, including an unaffiliated bystander who told the jury you could hear the expletive laden protest from the store entrance. The alleged victim testified he had encounters with nine other citizens in the minutes he had been on the sidewalk.
Smith testified at trial his concern was for the proper display of the flag, and he expressed his regret for the incident immediately after. He further testified he respects the right to peacefully protest and his actions were not related to the protester’s message.
A witness in the police’s criminal complaint filed in June 2020 told officers at that time he saw the argument ensue. The witness said Smith “grabbed the flag Hernandez was holding upside down and tried to flip it upright.” After Smith put the flag in his truck, “Hernandez began yelling that he was going to call police, Smith parked and waited,” the witness told police in the criminal complaint.
Hobbs attorney Christopher R. Mills along with co-counsel Ronald Walker and D’nae Robinett represented Smith.
“We would like to thank the members of this jury for serving justice on this day for the community and our client,” Mills said. “This case demonstrates a disturbing trend nationwide in criminal prosecutions overcharging minor crimes exclusively to avoid political backlash which only further divides our already fractured communities. We do not believe the facts of this case ever supported a charge of robbery, the testimony in the case confirmed the absurdity of the charge, and the jury saw through the falsehoods and fake facts to find the truth.”
Mills further commented on the case in press release abouth the criminal justice system in this way, “It is my hope that this serves as an example that juries are not naive to the corruption furthered by handpicking narratives to fit political agendas. This alarming trend has to stop to preserve our justice system.”
Mills is a private criminal defense attorney serving southeastern New Mexico from his offices in Hobbs and Carlsbad. He has been practicing for over 15 years and has handled 1,000s of cases all over the state of New Mexico. He also is a Hobbs city commissioner.