Jackson County sheriff sets limit on housing fugitives at county jail

City police chiefs question legality, timing of decision

mbbaker@sunherald.comSeptember 19, 2012 

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd

JAMES EDWARD BATES — SUN HERALD Buy Photo

PASCAGOULA -- Sheriff Mike Byrd informed Moss Point, Ocean Springs and Pascagoula police chiefs this week the Jackson County jail will no longer house their fugitives picked up on out-of-state warrants through the National Crime Information Center.

In a memo, Byrd wrote: "This is to advise you that we will not keep any NCIC hits from any other agencies in our jail. The only NCIC hits we will keep will be ones from the county. MHP (Mississippi Highway Patrol) and the city of Gautier, who house their prisoners at the jail, will be the only exception."

All three city police chiefs have asked their city attorneys to research the matter because they believe fugitives listed on the NCIC database are supposed to be housed at the county jail.

"He (Byrd) seems to think a fugitive prisoner is not a state prisoner," Pascagoula Police Chief Kenny Johnson said. "Since I've been chief, we've been sending the fugitives to the county. We're prepared to hold them if need be, but if they are the respon

sibility of the county, we intend to try and convince the county to house the prisoners. We'll let the attorneys work all that out."

Moss Point Police Chief Keith Davis questions the timing of the memo, which comes on the heels of an independent investigation Davis called for after learning of a July 31 shooting at the Pascagoula office of the Narcotics Task Force of Jackson County that injured an agent. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigations is conducting that probe.

As for Byrd now requiring Moss Point to house NCIC fugitives, Davis said that is not an option. "We don't have the facilities to house violent offenders before they are extradited back to another state," he said. "I believe the sheriff has an obligation to house these inmates."

Moss Point City Attorney Amy St. Pé is researching the matter.

Police officers, during traffic stops, often arrest fugitives listed on the NCIC database. The state Attorney General's Office said Wednesday it will have to research the matter thoroughly before issuing an opinion.

But in 1988, Bay St. Louis requested an attorney general's opinion about whether it was responsible for paying the county to house a prisoner in the county jail if the prisoner was picked up on an out-of-state warrant. The opinion said, in part, "… it is the opinion of this office that a person arrested by a municipal police officer on a fugitive felony warrant … would be a county prisoner and the municipality would not be obligated to pay for housing that prisoner."

Byrd did not return phone calls Wednesday from the Sun Herald, but rather issued a written statement.

"This decision involved the county attorney and it's based on overcrowding and safety issues relating to our old, antiquated jail. We take them on mittimus (a court order), which is not a problem, but as far as the NCIC hits go, the agency that catches them -- with the exception of Gautier or the Highway Patrol -- needs to house them. We have a contract with Gautier and the Highway Patrol."

Pascagoula City Attorney Eddie Williams said he believes Byrd is in "error" if he thinks NCIC arrestees are not considered by law to be county inmates. "These are folks we come across from time to time in traffic stops and direct searches," Williams said. "They are not violators of municipal laws."

Williams also had other concerns.

"Our jail has limited capacity and we have enough of our own prisoners to deal with," he said. "Our jail really isn't set up for long-term prisoners. One of the issues I'm concerned about is if they are city prisoners, we are responsible for their safety. We are responsible for their health needs. It just adds a liability issue. I wouldn't want us doing that."

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