In small-town Texas, about 100 miles east of Dallas, Kelly Smith has built an impressive following on social media—at least for a cop.
A self-described ordained minister and 25-year law enforcement veteran, the elected Wood County constable often shares videos of him training his police dog, K9 Mata, with his more than 94,000 TikTok followers. In some, the dog sniffs out drugs and hunts down mock suspects. In others, Smith riffs on President Joe Biden or shares videos of himself at the gun range.
He’s earned some influential fans. In early 2020, Smith and his previous police dog landed on the cover of K-9 Cop Magazine. This August, Smith boasted that Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX) awarded him a flag and a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition.
In one video Smith shared on TikTok, he wrote of Biden, “Somebody please do something with this guy. Let’s Go Brandon,” an apparent reference to the right-wing slur against the president. In a Facebook video titled “Let’s Go Brandon,” K9 Mata runs down a man in a training exercise, latches its teeth to the protective gear on his arm, and drags him to the ground.
Now, Smith’s facing a federal criminal charge for allegedly ordering his canine “to bite a suspect who did not pose a threat that warranted use of the police dog,” according to a statement released by the U.S. Department of Justice in East Texas. And The Daily Beast has learned the same constable has been accused of excessive force in the past.
A brief indictment in the federal case, unsealed this past week, says, in part, that Smith’s use of his dog violated a suspect’s constitutional right “to be free from unreasonable seizures, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer acting under color of law.”
With the FBI in Dallas leading the investigation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Batson is prosecuting the case. The charge—deprivation of rights under color of the law—could land Smith in federal prison for up to 10 years.
Smith didn’t return emails or phone calls requesting comment for this story. But in an email to The Daily Beast, one of Smith’s attorneys, Cody Skipper, insisted the constable “did not commit any crime.”
“Constable Smith sustained a broken finger and a knee injury during the incident, and his actions were all in compliance with K-9 handler standards,” he said, describing the suspect as an “extremely violent individual.”
The incident occurred on July 25, while Smith accompanied local police officers to serve a warrant on a man named Robert Evans, who was wanted for allegedly causing injury to a child.
Earlier this month, a post on Smith’s Facebook page announced that a “support group” backing Smith had taken over the page to share “information regarding the false indictment against him and K9 Mata.” That same day, the page posted a copy of Evans’ arrest warrant, including the unredacted name and date of birth of his 12-year-old child.
A self-styled sleuth named Todd Eddington, a construction worker who spends his spare time running a Facebook page dedicated to exposing misconduct by Wood County officials, obtained body-camera footage of the episode.
Eddington, who says he’s received several complaints about Smith in the past, later posted the video on his social-media pages. In the footage, Smith and law-enforcement officers kick down the door of a trailer home and find Evans in the bathroom.
Smith’s dog sinks his teeth into Evans’ leg and drags him into the hallway. Evans shouts in pain and pleads for Smith to call the dog off. “Hey, man, he’s breaking my foot,” Evans screams.
A man who appears to be Smith says he’ll order the dog to let go once he gets Evans handcuffed.
Afterwards, when Evans is sitting handcuffed on the porch, he suggests Smith struck him in the head several times as the dog clamped down on his leg.
Evans’ attorney didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“He’s the single most hated law enforcement person in Wood County,” Eddington claimed, adding: “Everyone’s scared of him.”
Victoria Rushing, another local resident who’s had run-ins with Smith, echoes those claims. She told The Daily Beast she first met Smith while she was the passenger in a vehicle that got pulled over in a routine traffic stop.
Then, in February 2021, her brother, Chris Osbourn, had an encounter with Smith. She says her brother had left home after a fight with his then fiancée, and when his car broke down, he decided to try and sleep in the vehicle.
Smith later pulled up and found Osbourn, she said. As the constable took the man into custody, Smith kicked Osbourn’s legs out from under him from behind, causing the handcuffed man to fall and break two ribs, Rushing claimed, citing video she said she has seen of the incident.
For his part, Skipper, Smith’s attorney, claimed an FBI agent had already looked into Osbourn’s arrest and decided not to pursue allegations of misconduct in that case. Smith has not been charged in connection with that case, and in fact appears to have won a protective order against Osbourn in the past, though whether it remained in effect was unclear.
Court records show Osbourn was indicted in April 2021 with felony tampering with evidence, a felony controlled substance possession charge, and a misdemeanor for resisting arrest. He remained in county jail until March this year, when he made bond, but recently wound up back in lock-up for allegedly violating the conditions of his bond. He could not be reached for comment for this story.
Since her brother’s arrest, Rushing has filed a spate of public records requests trying to obtain Smith’s body-cam footage of the incident, but the Wood County District Attorney’s Office has rejected those requests. Still, she says she’s seen the video twice, once in the office of her brother’s former attorney and later during court proceedings.
“Honestly, I felt shattered,” she said.
Rushing is glad that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in East Texas indicted Smith, but she’s still hoping for law enforcement to investigate her brother’s arrest. “I want answers, and I think [Smith] should have to answer for that.”
Like Eddington, Rushing has taken to Facebook to call out the constable. In December, she posted a petition on Change.org asking people to support an investigation into Smith and to ask why the DA’s office hadn’t opened a probe.
In communications reviewed by The Daily Beast, Rushing reached out about the alleged assault on her brother to the FBI, the Wood County District Attorney’s Office, the local sheriff’s department, the Texas Rangers, and to Constable Smith himself. In a March 2022 email to the Texas Rangers, for instance, she alleged that Smith had committed “an aggravated assault against a handcuffed person,” referring to her brother.
Neither the Wood County District Attorney’s Office, the Wood County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Rangers, nor the FBI responded to requests for comment.
Rushing has also come under fire of her own.
In January, a page dedicated to criticizing Eddington and Rushing appeared on Facebook. Titled “The Desperate People of Wood County TX,” the page routinely posts photos of the pair, often accompanied by rambling accusations of inappropriate or criminal behavior.
The way Rushing sees it, it’s part of a campaign of intimidation targeted at her for speaking out against Smith, though she can’t be sure who is behind it. “People are scared,” she said, adding: “One cannot serve and protect the same people that they oppress.”