JACKSON COUNTY -- A grand jury in December declined to indict 58 people whose cases were investigated by the Narcotics Task Force of Jackson County, though at least 11 of those identified in court records had pleaded guilty to a charge prior to the cases being presented for indictment.
The number of task force cases that did result in indictment has not yet been reported in public documents to the Circuit Clerk's Office. The task force is headed by Sheriff Mike Byrd.
When asked why so many of the cases had resulted in no indictment, District Attorney Tony Lawrence said: "The grand jury is presented the facts and the law on every case for which it deliberates. The citizens on the grand jury can no-bill (decline to indict) a case for many reasons.
"Some cases may be remanded to lower court, some cases may have crime lab-related issues, such as (a) misdemeanor amount of drugs or no controlled substance detected, while other cases may have other factual or legal reasons for a no-bill," Lawrence said. "It would be unfair and improper to infer that the task force did something in error on no-billed cases, when no one is allowed in the grand jury room when they vote and there are so many potential reasons that could cause a no-bill."
The Narcotics Task Force of Jackson County became the object of scrutiny after news broke about a July 30 shooting at its Pascagoula office, where one agent was wounded.
Sheriff's Sgt. Jackie Trussell, then commander of the task force, fired a shot at the feet of another agent, also a sheriff's deputy, who had poked a syringe at Trussell.
A grand jury has since indicted Trussell on a charge of misdemeanor simple assault in that incident. Since then, Gautier, Moss Point, Pascagoula and Ocean Springs have severed ties with the county task force.
The Sun Herald compared, for the same time period, the number of cases resulting in no indictments investigated by the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and Gautier, Ocean Springs, Moss Point and Pascagoula.
The grand jury decided not to indict in seven Sheriff's Department cases, though one case resulted in a plea agreement. The grand jury did not indict in six cases investigated by the Gautier Police Department and six by the Moss Point Police Department, and two cases investigated by the Ocean Springs Police Department, though one of the Ocean Springs cases resulted in a plea agreement.
The grand jury did not indict in four Pascagoula Police Department cases, two of which involved routine death investigations and two resulted in pleas.