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Duluth man accused of severe assault over cigarette

An argument over a cigarette ended in an assault that left a 27-year-old man with life-threatening injuries in West Duluth, according to court documents.

Chazz Joseph Smith, 22, was charged Wednesday with first-degree assault in the Sunday afternoon incident near Mr. D’s Bar and Grill.

A criminal complaint states that the victim, identified by police as Jordan Johnson, suffered severe head trauma and remains “intubated, sedated and unconscious,” with a guarded prognosis and an uncertain recovery.

Police said multiple witnesses and surveillance video revealed that the defendant and the victim “squared off to engage in a fist fight after both had previously become engaged in a verbal dispute over a cigarette.”

Authorities said both men struck one another before Johnson was knocked to the ground and struck his head on the concrete. Smith then punched him another five times in the head before the altercation was broken up, according to the complaint.

In an interview, police said Smith repeatedly asserted self-defense, but the complaint alleges that he “in part provoked the fight and also did not retreat.”

Smith was arraigned in State District Court on Wednesday, with Judge Dale Harris setting bail at $50,000. He remains in the St. Louis County Jail.

According to the complaint:

The Duluth Police Department was called just before 4 p.m. to the 5600 block of Grand Avenue, where Johnson was found unresponsive and bleeding from the ears.

Officers tended to Johnson before an ambulance took him to St. Luke’s hospital for emergency surgery. It was discovered that he suffered multiple skull fractures and hematomas.

Smith, who was found nearby, told officers that he struck Johnson in self-defense because the man “ran up on him.” Authorities also collected surveillance video and spoke with witnesses, determining that the men physically confronted one another after the cigarette dispute.

Police said Johnson first struck Smith in the head, leaving a visible cut to his mouth and eye area. Smith could been seen temporarily losing his balance before regaining his footing and delivering a return blow to Johnson’s left eye.

The video reportedly shows Johnson’s body going limp and collapsing to the ground, striking his head in the process. Smith could then be seen straddling the victim and delivering another five blows to his head in a “side-to-side motion.”

The incident, which lasted only seven seconds, was eventually stopped by Johnson’s brother. Smith briefly remained on scene before beginning to walk away and encountering responding officers.

In his interview, Smith acknowledged striking Johnson but continued to claim self-defense. Police said Johnson did walk 43 feet to meet Smith, but that it was “clear from the video that defendant was (a) mutual combatant with victim and was prepared to fight prior to (the) victim advancing.”

Minnesota and Wisconsin court records show only a misdemeanor trespassing conviction and other petty offenses on Smith’s record.

He is due back in court on Aug. 28.