Jackson County sheriff issues statement on critics; DA's office responds

mbbaker@sunherald.comJuly 12, 2013 

PASCAGOULA -- About noon Friday, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd issued a statement.

When asked what the statement was in response to, Byrd said through his public information official, Cherie Ward, the release was prompted by the Sun Herald's "one-sided" coverage of the Sheriff's Office.

"I've told you time and time again that I'm governed by rules and I cannot comment on certain cases. My press release speaks for itself."

Ward told the Sun Herald that Byrd had written the statement personally. Here's the statement:

"Due to pending civil litigation on a certain matter, I have been unable to comment on the substantive and procedural facts of that particular case and how that case may interface with the ongoing media accounts concerning my service as sheriff of Jackson County and the investigative operations of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department in general.

"Over the course of several months, the public has been inundated with press coverage and media reports concerning certain cases, the operation of my office specifically and the local activity of the District Attorney's Office. The coverage has been unilateral at best and cannot be measured as fair and balanced. Unfortunately, I am prevented, at the this juncture, from commenting specifically or challenging the complete veracity of those accounts.

"In a similar vein, I am unable to comment on the activity of the District Attorney's Office due to secrecy and privacy issues. Suffice it to say, that as the sheriff of Jackson County, I take strong issue with the implication that the Jackson County Sheriff's Department has failed to perform its role as a law enforcement agency. When law enforcement becomes the stepping stone for political gain or the target or misplaced criticism, the ability of law enforcement to ferret out criminal activity and present it for impartial and fair criminal prosecution comes to an end.

"When a complaint is received by me or through my office or when a concerned citizen seeks the confidence and guidance of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department on a possible

criminal activity, I steadfastly refuse to turn a blind eye to the information furnished to me that may implicate criminal activity. I will not today, nor will I in the future, allow my office to serve as the prize target for those who have political aspirations nor will I allow those dedicated law enforcement officers who work with me and under me and who place their life on the line daily to be deterred in their efforts to investigate possible criminal activity because of threats of civil or criminal litigation.

"If the day comes when enforcement of the law is guided by the social, economic or political standing of a possible criminal subject, the criminal justice system will be meaningless and ineffective. Likewise, if an investigation by a prosecutorial body or the filing of a civil suit is the leverage against good faith investigation by law enforcement, then, at the end of the day, the citizens of Jackson County will become the real victim."

District Attorney Tony Lawrence, in response to Byrd's comments about Lawrence's office, also issued a statement Friday.

"My office has and will continue to perform the duties required by Mississippi law," Lawrence said. "I cannot engage in a public debate about matters pending before a grand jury, which are mandated by law to be secret."

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