KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A man charged with firing two shots inside a southern Missouri church told authorities he was trying to force the congregation and pastor to tell the truth about a previous disturbance that ended with him undergoing a mental health evaluation, according to court documents released Monday.
Earnest Smith, 48, of Hartville, was charged in Wright County with first-degree assault, discharging a firearm into a habitable structure, unlawful use of a weapon, making a terrorist threat and armed criminal action. He is jailed on $250,000 bond.
Online court records don't list an attorney for him.
Witnesses said Smith walked into the First Baptist Church in the small town of Norwood on Sunday morning and fired two shots before churchgoers tackled him. One of the men who subdued him suffered a minor arm injury during the struggle. No one else was hurt.
"It sure could have been bad," Wright County Sheriff Glenn Adler said.
About 40 people were at the church at the time, he said.
A Wright County deputy wrote in the probable cause statement that Smith caused a disturbance at the church on June 9 and was transported in an ambulance to Springfield for a 96-hour psychological evaluation. No one at the church wanted to file a complaint then, according to the probable cause statement.
"They were afraid that if they did, it would make him madder or something like that," Adler said.
After his arrest Sunday, Smith told authorities that the pastor and church members had said he threatened to shoot them in the June 9 incident. Smith told authorities that he went to the church Sunday to "get the pastor to admit that he had lied on him," the probable cause statement said.
Smith told authorities he walked into the church and fired one shot into the floor to get everybody's attention. That bullet bounced off the concrete, split into two pieces and lodged in a wall behind the pulpit. Smith said that when he was tackled, he pointed the gun under his arm and fired another shot at a person who was tackling him. That shot lodged in the ceiling, the probable cause statement said.
The deputy asked Smith what he would have done if the preacher didn't admit he was lying, and Smith said he would have shot him in the forehead, according to the probable cause statement. But Smith added that he "knew he wouldn't have to shoot the preacher because people tell the truth when someone points a gun at them," the court document said.
Adler said Smith also was involved in a disturbance Wednesday at a health clinic in nearby Mountain Grove. The city's assistant police chief, Danny Bledsoe, said that incident ended with Smith being transported to Springfield. Bledsoe said he couldn't elaborate, citing patient confidentiality laws.
Bledsoe said that case has been referred to prosecutors, but no charges had been filed as of Monday.