Jackson County sheriff's benefit fund pays for jurors' alcoholic drinks, funeral flowers

Jackson County's Byrd releases records on 'non-profit' account

Sun HeraldJuly 19, 2013 

PASCAGOULA -- Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd on Friday released hundreds of pages detailing spending from his benefit bank account, some of which showed he spent money to pay for alcoholic drinks for a sequestered jury in January 2008.

Between 2009 and 2012, the sheriff also has spent more than $22,000 on four Christmas parties, the records show. The 2009 expenses included "ornament fish, nautical hooks and pre-lit palm trees."

The bank account, which had a balance of $9,929.32 at the end of June, was used to cover the $97 the county's finance department wouldn't cover for the jury's six Long Island iced teas, a glass of Beringer wine, 12 shots of Burnett's Vanilla Vodka, two Crown Royals and a cognac at Preservation Grill in Pascagoula.

Two days later, the jury, deliberating in the capital murder case of John Woods, found Woods guilty. The Sheriff's Office investigated the case in which Woods was accused in the March 11, 2005, robbery and beating death of Derrick Scott Williams.

The account relies on donations and raises money annually at such events as the Sheriff's Benefit Bass Tournament, gun raffles and a rodeo.

The Sun Herald first filed a request to inspect and copy the benefit-fund records in February, but Byrd, through his public information official, Cherie Ward, denied that request.

In a March 6 email explaining the denial, Ward wrote: "Sheriff Byrd said the Jackson County benefit fund is a non-profit account that is not funded by the county and

used for people in need."

The Sun Herald checked with the Secretary of State's Office and the Internal Revenue Service and learned the account is not registered as a nonprofit. "I do not show where an entity under those names has ever filed with our agency," said Pamela Weaver, director of communications with the Secretary of State's office.

The Sun Herald filed another records request through the Chancery Clerk's Office on March 13. It was forwarded to Josh Eldridge, the county's comptroller, who checked with the county's legal department about turning over the only records they had on file for the account.

"(The legal department) said if it's under our tax ID, we need to provide the information," Eldridge said then. "All I get is a copy of the front page of the bank statement every quarter. The only thing I have here is a cash balance. It's just set up using our tax ID. We've never seen the revenues. We've never seen the expenses."

It wasn't until Friday that Byrd agreed to turn over his financial statements, complete with cancelled checks, receipts and check stubs.

Flowers for funerals

One of the most prominent expenses paid by the fund was for flowers for memorial services and funerals, more than $18,000 between 2005 and 2011. The flowers were purchased from Jackson County floral shops, including Pugh's Florist, Main Street Florist, Four Seasons Florist, Flowers by Karen and Florist at Heart.

In addition, the fund in 2006 paid $781 to Holder Wells Funeral Home, the records show, for "Byrd funeral expenses." Byrd's son, Micheal Byrd, was a Pascagoula motorcycle patrol officer when he was hit and killed in an accident March 26, 2006, in Pascagoula. Money from the account was used to send flowers to Micheal Byrd's funeral just as cash from the account was used to send flowers to countless other memorial or funeral services.

In addition to the flowers, more than $1,700 was spent from March 2010 to December 2011 on food for families in mourning.

Showers, retirements

The fund also provided for other parties beyond Christmas celebrations, including $188 for a shower, either bridal or baby, for "McGrath" in September 2010. In July 2011, $45 was spent on a "baby shower cake."

Retirement celebrations also were paid from the fund, including for one in October 2011 for "Deflanders" at a cost of $477. Another retirement in June 2011 for "CSD" cost $292. In October 2011, $802.50 was spent at "Guns & Ammo" for "SO-2 retirement gift."

In June 2006, $986 was spent at McCay Outdoors for "SO-4 retirement gift."

Byrd was a direct beneficiary on some occasions.

In December 2010, a $300 check was written to cover the costs for "SO-1's gift," and in December 2011, $400 was spent at Discount Pawn and Gun for a "Christmas present for SO-1."

In October 2011, $195 was spent for a cake and food to celebrate "Boss's (sic) Day."

Between 2007 and 2012, the fund spent more than $3,600 on plaques at Haygood's Industrial Engravers Inc.

Trip expenses

The fund paid for two trips to Washington, to the National Law Enforcement Memorial during National Police Week. In 2009, an $8,000 check was made to cash with "Memorial Service in Washington" on the check; it was $5,765 in 2010.

The fund made contributions ranging from $25 to $100 to a number of charitable and other organizations, including the American Cancer Society, Wounded Warriors, Jackson County Exceptional School, the Krewe of Venus, the Elks Lodge and Kappa Delta. In 2010, the fund gave $570 to East Central High School for footballs and $100 to the school's cheerleaders.

Similar donations totaling $1,800 were made in 2008, including $1,000 to the Bacot/McCarty Foundation.

Two $150 donations were made to the NRA in 2008.

The fund also offered assistance to people in need including a loan for $500, another $500 for "assistance," $300 for "funeral assistance," $500 for "emergency assistance" and $1,000 for "emergency help for … (a) house burned down."

Funding sources

One way the fund raised money was with an annual gun raffle. The fund would spend about $500 for raffle tickets and give prizes of up to $200 for top ticket sellers. The prizes included a $1,081.80 "gun set for raffle" from Guns & Ammo in 2006, and from Discount Pawn and Gun, a $734 gun in 2010, and a $732.79 gun in 2011. In 2009, the fund spent $1,060 for a Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun and a Remington 770 .30-06 from Discount Pawn in Vancleave.

Although the bank statements reflect thousands of dollars of deposits and records provide great detail about how the money was spent, little documentation exists that says where the deposits came from.

The donations came in amounts as little as $2 to as much as $2,000.

A deputy, contacted Friday, offered an explanation for the payment for alcoholic beverages for jurors. Sheriff's Capt. David Chamberlain said he made the mistake that resulted in using $97 from the benefit fund to pay for the jury's drinks.

"In the course of taking care of the sequestered jury, we take them to dinner," Chamberlain said. "Prior to doing so, we have always asked the trial judge if the jury was allowed alcoholic beverages. It would not be allowed without (the judge's) permission. I had informed the jury they could have no more than two drinks per person per the judge's orders. I failed to let them know they would have to pay for the drinks themselves because I was busy with other aspects involving the security of the sequestration."

When the county refused to pay for the drinks, Chamberlain said, he was required to pay the bill but didn't have the money and asked for assistance from the benefit fund.

"It was approved and the restaurant was paid," he said. "I never made that mistake again. I took responsibility for not telling the jury they had to pay for the drinks."

Byrd didn't respond Friday to a request from the Sun Herald to discuss the fund.

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