A Pine Bluff man who owned several pit bulls that were responsible for a death in 2015 pleaded no contest to a felony allegation in the case in return for a three-year prison sentence.

A Pine Bluff man who owned several pit bulls that were responsible for a death in 2015 pleaded no contest to a felony allegation in the case in return for a three-year prison sentence.


John Chester Smith, 63, entered the plea in Second Division Circuit Court and will sentenced in June by Circuit Judge Rob Wyatt Jr., Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter said Monday.


"The judge deferred sentencing so that Smith could get his business affairs in order," Hunter said.


"This was a horrible death and even though Mr. Smith did not personally cause the death, our position was that there was recklessness on his part because of the dogs and it deserved prison time," Hunter said. "If this had gone to trial, we would have had to prove that there had been four previous serious incidents involving the dogs and we could have proved that."


Smith is the owner of C.J.’s Garage at 300 Thomas Road, where De’Trick Omar Johnson, 36, had gone on the morning of March 21, 2015, to inquire about work on his vehicle but found the business closed and the gate locked.


According to a probable cause affidavit from Sheriff’s Investigator Sgt. Mickey Buffkin, numerous pit bulls came from the business, went under the gate and attacked Johnson, with each dog "pulling him in several different directions as he screamed for help as the dogs began stripping him of his clothing."


Buffkin said in the affidavit that several witnesses tried to help Johnson, who was pronounced dead at the scene.


Maj. Lafayette Woods Jr. said in a press release that when the first deputy got to the scene, one of the dogs immediately charged the deputy’s patrol vehicle, and after an attempt to subdue the dog with a Taser failed, the deputy shot and killed the dog.


In another report, Sgt. Larry Aldridge said additional deputies, sheriff’s investigators and Pine Bluff Animal Control officers arrived and entered the area to try and capture the animals and deputies killed three dogs while animal control officers were able to capture two others. An additional dog escaped but returned to the property the next day and was killed by deputies after the dog showed aggression toward the deputies.


Deputy Prosecutor Maxie Kizer represented the state, while Smith was represented by Chris Hays from the Public Defender’s Office.


Six months after the death of Johnson, the Jefferson County Quorum Court adopted an ordinance regulating vicious animals and establishing penalties for violations.


A previous ordinance, adopted in 1995, set a penalty of $25 to $250 for a first and second offense, while the new ordinance increased those penalties to $1,000 for a first offense, with double that for a second offense.


Also, if the dog bites or seriously injures someone, the owner of the dog could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.


When the idea for the ordinance first came up, the focus was on pit bulls but that was changed after opposition from Woods and others.


"We thought it was important to focus on the behavior of the dog, not the breed," Woods said at that time.