Sheriff disappointed with cities' decisions to pull out of task force

mbaker@sunherald.comOctober 19, 2012 

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd

JAMES EDWARD BATES — SUN HERALD Buy Photo

JACKSON COUNTY -- Sheriff Mike Byrd issued a statement Friday, saying he was disappointed with the decision of Moss Point and Pascagoula city leaders to sever their partnership with the Narcotics Task Force of Jackson County.

"I want the citizens to know that those cities' decisions will not cause any hardships," Byrd's statement said. "We will fill the two positions vacated by Moss Point and Pascagoula with officers from my department. We will continue to fight drugs in the cities and county. Our efforts will continue to be aggressive and directed toward the safety of all citizens in Jackson County, Pascagoula, Moss Point, Gautier and Ocean Springs."

From January to September, less than a month before the two cities initially decided to temporarily pull their officers, task force agents made a total of 226 drugs arrests in the four cites, the statement said, with 111 in rural Jackson County. In addition, task force agents dismantled eight meth labs in Moss Point, three in Pascagoula, four in Gautier, two in Ocean Springs and 10 in the rural areas.

Pascagoula and Moss Point city leaders voted this week to dissolve their partnerships with the county. Gautier Mayor Tommy Fortenberry said he's taking the route of "diplomacy" and meeting with Jackson County supervisors to discuss the issue as early as Monday, though he said he will support Police Chief Dante Elbin's final decision.

Ocean Springs Police Lionel Cothern said his city "as of now" will remain with the task force.

Pascagoula and Moss Point temporarily pulled their officers from the task force in early September after Moss Point Police Chief Keith Davis learned of a July 31 shooting at the task force office, resulting in an injury to an agent. Davis called an emergency meeting of the task force board to request an independent investigation.

Byrd then called the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to conduct the probe. Those findings are now in the hands of Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence, who will present the findings to a November grand jury. The sheriff did not disclose any information about the shooting at the time it occurred.

The city attorneys in Moss Point, Pascagoula and Gautier have been meeting to research options for funding their new task force, including trying to recoup a portion of the assets gained at the county task force.

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