Former Leland officer pleads guilty to attempted murder, sex offense

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Howard Henry Smith
Howard Henry Smith

A former Leland police lieutenant will serve at least 22 years in prison on attempted murder charges after pleading guilty to shooting at authorities in a high-speed vehicle chase that ended in South Carolina.

Howard Henry Smith, 41, of Supply, pleaded guilty Wednesday to three counts of attempted murder, one count of discharging a firearm into a vehicle and one count of possessing photographic material obtained by secret peeping, according to a news release from the Office of District Attorney Jon David.

Smith was arrested in Horry County, South Carolina, after he led law enforcement on a vehicle chase from Brunswick County on Sept. 16, 2014, according to Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Spokeswoman Emily Flax. Deputies were attempting to serve Smith with warrants related to a domestic violence incident when he fled.

“Multiple agencies, including the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, pursued Smith, who was armed with a gun and firing shots at officers during the duration of the pursuit,” Flax said. “The chase continued into Horry County and ended on Highway 31, where Smith was taken into custody by South Carolina officials.”

Smith fired a handgun at law enforcement on three separate occasions during the vehicle chase, which spanned 55 miles from Holden Beach into North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, according to the release.

“They were literally driving into a hail of bullets. They could hear the bullets hitting their patrol cars,” Assistant District Attorney Lee Bollinger said. “I want to commend these brave officers…despite extremely dangerous circumstances – despite being fired upon – these officers never quit the chase.”

No law enforcement officer was injured by bullets during the case, Bollinger said.

In April, Smith was sentenced to 20 years in the South Carolina Department of Corrections after he pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted murder in Horry County General Sessions Circuit Court, according to a clerk of court. As part of his plea agreement, charges of two counts of possession of a firearm and ammunition, and one count of failure to stop for blue lights were dismissed.

Smith was extradited to North Carolina on July 30 to face charges of three counts of attempted murder, three counts of assault on a law enforcement officer with a firearm, discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle and felony flee to elude arrest with a motor vehicle in Brunswick Count Superior Court.

At the time of Smith’s extradition, Bollinger said the State had just 120 days to handle the case in Brunswick County before he would return to serve out his sentence in South Carolina. Before his plea on Wednesday, the State had set Smith’s trial date for Oct. 26.

As part of his plea agreement, the State dismissed all remaining charges in the case, including several charges related to the domestic violence case in Brunswick County District Court, Bollinger said.

Superior Resident Superior Court Judge James Ammons sentenced Smith to a minimum of 22 years and a maximum of 28 years and 6 months in the N.C. Department of Corrections.

Ammos also ordered Smith to register as a sex offender after his release from prison upon his plea to possessing photographic material obtained by secret peeping, Bollinger said.  The charge was admitted into his plea through a bill of information, which is a legal document signed by a defendant charging him or her with a crime without an indictment by a grand jury.

The sex offense charge came from an investigation launched by the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office in September 2014, which resulted in a search warrant, according to Bollinger.

“They recovered a digital card that had a recording on it from the camera that was taken during the course of that search warrant,” Bollinger said.

According to court records, the search warrant was based on allegations that Smith had possessed child pornography on several electronic devices at his home on Hillock Drive in Supply.

Bollinger said the 22-year the sentence will run concurrently with Smith’s sentence in South Carolina. “He will probably pull the first 18 [years] in South Carolina,” he said. The remainder of his sentence will be served in North Carolina.

Smith was hired with the Leland Police Department in November 2011. He resigned as a lieutenant on May 7, 2013, according to Leland Town Manager David Hollis. Attorney Edward Geddings represented Smith in the case.

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Christina Haley is a crime reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6337 or christina.h@portcitydaily.com.