no avatar

Drug dealer testifies on behalf of accused former Kingsport police officer

Kacie Breeding • Apr 14, 2010 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Former Kingsport Police Department Officer Christopher Smith couldn’t have known he was in the business of selling drugs, James “Jimmie” Swafford Jr. testified Wednesday, six days into Smith’s trial on drug conspiracy and official misconduct charges.

“There’s no way, no possible way,” Swafford asserted after Smith’s defense attorney, Don Spurrell, put him on the witness stand Wednesday afternoon. He described purposely leading two separate lives — dealing marijuana and cocaine to his closest associates, while posing as a “straight up” nightclub owner to those he trusted less.

Swafford admitted purposely misleading Smith to make him think the KPD and city officials hounded him and refused to help with security first at Club 229 and then Lime Light because of the color of his skin.

According to Swafford, Smith, some other “friends” at the KPD, business associates Jerry Smith (Christopher Smith’s cousin) and Gary Alexander — even his own father, James “Sarge” Swafford Sr. — were among those he managed to keep in the dark until his indictment in January 2007.

Swafford said he thought his admission of guilt on Aug. 27, 2009, may have come as such a shock to his ailing father that it hastened his death. Swafford said his father died last September, about a week after he entered his guilty pleas.

Having already begun a 30-year prison sentence for his crimes, Swafford readily admitted to Sullivan County District Attorney Greeley Wells that he’d sold drugs from 1998 until at least 2005. He balked, however, when Wells asked him to identify his supplier or suppliers in Mexico, which is where it’s believed the drugs Swafford acquired from a Hispanic named Pablo Pallan in Texas originated.

Swafford cited his dislike of “snitches” and fear of retribution against his family as his reasons for refusing to answer.

Wells reviewed some of Swafford’s laundry list of charges with him, asking if he admitted to what was charged in each count. Most of the charges were directly related to his efforts to distribute more than 300 pounds of marijuana and 300 grams of cocaine in the area.

Some involved his failure to pay a portion of the sales tax acquired at one of his businesses, and his use of his nightclubs as well as a company called Wyde Open Records, to conceal the source of his drug trade profits.

There were also charges for threats he’d made against associates who agreed to cooperate with the prosecution.

Swafford answered Wells each time with, “I pled guilty to it,” or simply, “yes.”

When Wells reviewed the allegations linking Smith to the conspiracy, he asked Swafford why he hadn’t claimed Smith’s innocence to the judge in his case, Sullivan County Circuit Judge Jerry Beck. Swafford claimed he would have if he’d known he could, but he wasn’t aware of having an opportunity to do so. Swafford said he had told his attorneys.

Wells asked Swafford about co-conspirator Travis Adams’ claim that he was told “Chris Smith” was Swafford’s source within the KPD. Swafford claimed Adams was a liar and a drug user and wasn’t to be trusted. He claimed he’d quit dealing with Adams in 2004, before he even knew Smith. Wells, in turn, pointed out that Swafford has also admitted to practicing deceit and using drugs. Swafford’s explanation for why he should be believed, not Adams, was that he had nothing to gain by testifying on Smith’s behalf.

As for the conversations recorded between Smith and Swafford, both on the phone and via a confidential informant’s wire, Swafford had an explanation for each of them. As for the one in which Swafford told someone else Smith said he’d “smoked more than his police car weighs,” Swafford said Smith meant that in the context of the past.

In Spurrell’s opening arguments, he said Smith quit marijuana prior to joining the U.S. Marine Corps in 1992. About two years after exiting the U.S. Marine Corps, Smith joined the KPD as a jailer in 1998, then became a patrol officer within a year.

According to Swafford’s testimony, he “bumped into” Smith while Smith was working security at the former Club Up, then later learned from Jerry Smith that they were cousins. Swafford said he’d gone to Club Up because his first nightclub, Club 229, was closed to have metal detectors installed due to a shooting.

Although he didn’t testify with regard to a specific date, Swafford told the Times-News in an article published May 30, 2006, that he had a walk-through metal detector installed “about a year earlier.”

According to that article, Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips was trying to have Swafford’s club declared a public nuisance so it could be shut down.

Swafford told Judge Bob Cupp on Wednesday that never happened because he received a call from “KHA (Kingsport Housing Authority) officials” around midnight the day before he was to appear in court. He said he drove in from Knoxville to “work out a deal,” and they wrote him a check for about $200,000. The next morning, on June 1, Swafford said he appeared in court and the case was dismissed when he showed them the paperwork indicating he no longer owned the business.

That’s also about when the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation started the wiretap investigation that ultimately led to the charges against Swafford and Smith, with the first calls between the two having been recorded on June 1.

Prior to putting Swafford on the stand, the defense brought Timothy Ingram to the stand. Ingram, a former employee of both the Coconuts and Hog Wild Saloon establishments around 2003, testified that uniformed KPD officers frequently would come in for a “soda,” to “fill out reports” or just “hang out” at both bars, and that it wasn’t unusual to see three or four patrol cars at a time outside Coconuts, “particularly on Wednesday nights, during the bikini contests.”

Spurrell said he brought Ingram in because “such a big deal” had been made about Smith’s frequent drop-ins at the Lime Light club, which he had earlier called nothing more than “dereliction of duty.”

When Wells asked if Ingram knew whether they were actually on duty, Ingram admitted, “Officially, no.”

After Swafford testified, the defense called Dennis Kearns to the stand. Kearns is the man who Smith allegedly purposely neglected to charge with DUI to gain some benefit from him. Kearns, former manager of Action Rentals, testified he would have gotten in trouble for giving out free equipment, but that he hadn’t seen anything wrong with giving Christopher Smith and Jerry Smith a package deal that included free rental of a transmission lift if they would purchase a floor saw he was trying to sell.

Kearns testified Christopher Smith told him it was “officer’s discretion” that he hadn’t been charged with a DUI after a crash that landed him in Holston Valley Medical Center for several days. Prosecutors earlier introduced blood work showing Smith had hospital officials do a blood draw, which later returned a BAC of 0.17.

Kearns, who had a prior DUI conviction, said he just remembered waking up in the hospital with staples in his head, a laceration on his neck, and two sprained ankles. He said he waited days, weeks, then months, for the coming arrest, but it never happened.

Due to scheduling conflicts, the trial will not resume until next Wednesday.

Recommended for You