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Newly released video shows police with assault rifles searching inside Walmart for rogue excavator driver

Carrying assault rifles through a local Walmart, police officers can be seen on newly released video moving past startled shoppers looking for a shirtless man who they said just crashed a stolen excavator into the building and caused $2 million in damages across the popular shopping district.

The new video from body cameras of responding Gainesville police officers also shows details of the damage the excavator caused as it moved across the area late Monday night, downing fences and a live electrical pole before destroying part of an exterior wall at the Walmart. Police released the new video late Thursday night.

Jesse Charles Smith, 47, of Trenton, Florida, whose jail photo showed a large dragon tattoo on his neck, was facing four felony charges of damage to property that exceeded $1,000, plus felonies of grand theft, armed trespass and resisting an officer without violence. No one was hurt.

Meanwhile, Alachua County Circuit Judge William Davis appointed Smith a public defender on Thursday, according to court records.

Another judge, Peter K. Sieg, had previously ordered Smith to undergo a mental health evaluation before he can be released on a $160,000 bond. Smith remains in jail under observation to prevent him from hurting himself.

In the newly released video, which lacks any sound, police said Smith stole the 72,000-pound excavator from a nearby construction site through some woods and crushed four buildings at a mini-storage business before heading toward the Walmart.

“Smith spun the excavator’s boom in circles attempting to destroy as many of the buildings as possible,” police wrote in the video.

Police also disclosed in the new video that they initially took Smith to a hospital to be checked before booking him into the county jail. The video shows Smith in handcuffs inside the store.

Police said they found Smith inside the Walmart – wearing no shirt and only black shorts – and that employees showed them where Smith had dropped a machete he was carrying when he entered the store.

Smith has a long history of theft and burglary convictions in Alachua County dating back to 2018 and served just over one year in a Florida prison until January, when he was released about four months earlier than expected, according to a review of criminal court records.

Smith’s convictions included cases where sheriff's deputies said he admitted stealing hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of power tools and equipment from individuals or businesses – including a man who had let him stay at his house – then pawning them for pennies on the dollar.

The only explanation Smith ever offered to investigators was that he needed money for drugs and to take care of his girlfriend, court records showed. In another case, deputies said, he admitted stealing a laptop from a woman's car as she was refueling at a gas station and sold it.

Just before he entered prison, in December 2021, prosecutors dropped two separate criminal cases against Smith without explanation. Those crimes involved the theft of a $279 trimmer from a hardware store in the same shopping district where the excavator crashed, and the theft of $2,500 in tools from a work truck.


This is a breaking news story. Check back for further developments. Contact WUFT News by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org

Vivienne is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.