Hagan: Jackson County sheriff directed narcotics agent to target aldermen

Ocean Springs alderman says Jackson County sheriff directed narcotics agents to follow, arrest aldermen

mbbaker@sunherald.comDecember 19, 2012 

OCEAN SPRINGS -- Ocean Springs Alderman James Hagan says Sheriff Mike Byrd has issued orders directing agents with the Narcotics Task Force of Jackson County to target members of the board for arrest.

"I was informed by an officer within the county task force that they had been ordered to set up surveillance on aldermen," Hagan said Wednesday. "They were given dates and times and locations to arrest them for DUI."

That information, he said, has been turned over to the Jackson County District Attorney's Office and people are being questioned.

The Sun Herald asked District

Attorney Tony Lawrence whether they are investigating the allegations.

"I have no comment as to what my office may be or may not be investigating," Lawrence said. "The law does not allow me to make comments and I intend to follow the law."

Hagan did not want to say exactly who was targeted, for fear of backlash from Byrd.

In response, Byrd said in statement, "I do not respond to garbage."

On Tuesday night, Hagan made a motion to sever the city's ties with the Jackson County narcotics task force, a move the city approved. Police Chief Lionel Cothern said he had no objections.

Ocean Springs was the last of the four municipalities in Jackson County to cut ties with the task force. Pascagoula, Gautier and Moss Point severed ties in the aftermath of a July 30 shooting at the task force's Pascagoula office, which wounded one agent. Byrd did not disclose information about the shooting when it occurred.

After news broke about the shooting, Byrd described it as accidental. A Jackson County grand jury has since indicted Sgt. Jackie Trussell, then commander of the county task force, on a charge of misdemeanor simple assault.

Hagan said he has been among those unfairly targeted by Byrd's office.

Deputies in 2011 arrested Hagan on charges of embezzlement, molestation and child exploitation for possession of child pornography. A grand jury later found insufficient evidence to indict Hagan on the embezzlement and molestation charges.

Hagan was indicted on a charge of child exploitation, but the District Attorney's Office dismissed the charge in November, citing insufficient evidence in the case to prosecute.

After the charge was dismissed, Hagan said his wife and daughter were called in for questioning "in some type of investigation," at the District Attorney's Office.

Hagan said he still lives in fear as a result of what has happened to him.

"My life will never be the same again," he said. "I will never be the same. My family is changed forever and not in a good way. I'm scared just leaving my house, wondering what is going to happen next. I lost my job. I lost my income. Every time I fill out an application they ask me what happened, then they go with somebody else."

Hagan said his three children have been affected as well, because Byrd called in the state Department of Human Services to remove them in the aftermath of his arrests.

"My son woke up last night screaming, and it has a lot to do with being taken away," Hagan said. "It still bothers him that somebody is going to come and take him away. It's still very fresh right now, and we still worry about people coming and breaking into our house or stopping us going down the road. You just don't feel safe anymore."

Hagan said he knows firsthand how Byrd works because he served under him as a deputy assigned to the county narcotics task force. Hagan has also worked as a police officer in Ocean Springs and Pascagoula.

The drug cases they would work, he said, became less about working drug cases to get criminals off the streets.

"Our focus shifted," he said, "from catching the street-level narcotics dealer to taking directions from the sheriff to catch the street-level narcotics dealer who had the most property we could take."

Hagan said agents took televisions and stereos, items that had no evidentiary value to the cases.

"I remember right before I was leaving they were even taking children's toy trucks," he said. "When things like that were happening, that's when I decided to leave. Then, I did like most people do and just kept my mouth shut and moved on to another agency. I was young. And the general public didn't want to hear things like that about him. Everybody just took the sheriff's word back then. I'm not so sure anymore."

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