Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd's helicopters used 39 times, records show

mbbaker@sunherald.comJuly 16, 2013 

Byrd

PASCAGOULA -- Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd on Tuesday released flight records and fuel costs for his department's helicopters, which showed the helicopters have been used 39 times since April 2011.

Byrd released the data less than a week after he told the Sun Herald he didn't consider the information public record. The sheriff also gave the newspaper information on how his department spent drug-forfeiture money in 2013.

The flight records show the Sheriff's Office used the helicopters to patrol the local port and the county, to participate in Memorial Day patrols, to search for a lost plane, for maintenance runs and for public relations, though the logs do not specify the type of public relations.

The logs show the helicopters were used in 2012 for numerous maintenance runs, a Coast Guard mission to search for a missing "crew member," patrol missions in the Vancleave area, for county patrols of the rivers, for public relations at a Baptist church and to take part in the USS Mississippi convoy and commissioning.

In addition, the logs show Byrd was aboard on at least 14 missions between 2011 and 2013. The sheriff flew with a pilot on a recovery operation in Ocean Springs Harbor for two drowning victims, on Memorial Day patrols and to patrol waterways.

The 2013 operations, the records show, included what is referred to as a "hover practice" at Trent Lott International Airport in 2013 and a public relations event at First United Methodist Church.

The records identify the flights crews as pilots Ray Bates and Jim Howington and tactical flight officers Shaw McIlrath and Bruce Nevels. John Hayes is identified as a mechanic.

The sheriff also provided records listing items purchased with $114,974.69 in drug-forfeiture money in 2013:

n $13,924.50 on vehicle repairs, to paint and decal eight new patrol cars, and for a Bimini top for a patrol boat.

n $5,500 on "contractual services," including the annual training costs for three sheriff's K-9s and their handlers.

n $3,829,88 on what was described as consumables, K-9 equipment, drug-awareness calendars and vehicle equipment.

n $59,718.62 on four vehicles -- a 2012 Chevy Tahoe K-9 unit, a 2007 and two 2008 Crown Victorias.

n $32,001.69 for equipment, including furniture, lights, sirens and cages.

Byrd had initially denied the Sun Herald's request for this information.

"Sheriff Byrd received your request for information about flight records and fuel costs of the helicopter," his public information official, Cherie Ward, wrote in an email to the Sun Herald earlier this month. "Sheriff Byrd said the fuel is paid for with drug forfeiture money. Sheriff Byrd also said flight records and logs are not public record. Sheriff Byrd added that only the Federal Aviation Administration can view flight records and logs."

On Tuesday, the Sun Herald reported officials at the Harrison County Sheriff's Office saying they would produce flight records within a matter of days of a formal request.

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