Jackson County watches, waits for Sheriff Byrd's next move

mbbaker@sunherald.comAugust 20, 2013 

PASCAGOULA -- The attorney for Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd said Tuesday there has been "no final resolution on any issue concerning Sheriff Byrd, including any issue on whether he decides to finish out his term."

Gulfport attorney Joe Sam Owen said, "There is nothing to comment on at this point."

Owen made the statement as media from South Mississippi and Mobile gathered at the Jackson County Sheriff's Office in downtown Pascagoula to await word on any decision by Byrd.

A grand jury has been hearing evidence in an ongoing investigation with links to Byrd's office.

Byrd was re-elected to his fourth term in 2011. He would be up for re-election in 2015.

In recent months, several newsmakers in law enforcement and government have testified before the grand jury, court records show.

Grand jury meetings are secret, and District Attorney Tony Lawrence can't comment on what the grand jury is discussing. A grand jury decides if a case has enough evidence to issue an indictment.

Lawrence, however, has confirmed in court records his office has investigated the actions of sheriff's investigators involved in the arrests of former Ocean Springs Alderman James Hagan, who has filed suit against the Sheriff's Office.

Hagan alleges the sheriff and some of his investigators participated in improper search and seizure, witness tampering, perjury and false arrest and provided false information in sworn arrest affidavits and search warrants, among other things.

Hagan also alleges Byrd issued an order directing narcotics agents to target an alderman for arrest.

That alderman, Matt McDonnell, and other deputies, including former cyber-crimes investigator Linda Jones, already have testified before the grand jury.

The latest report, filed this week, shows numerous current and former deputies and others have testified in the grand jury investigation.

Among the witnesses were Moss Point Police Chief Keith Davis, the sheriff's public information official, a public information officer, the sheriff's long-time secretary, now retired, and others including two former commanders of the county drug task force.

In addition, several investigators and current and former deputies have testified, as have other administrative personnel.

Byrd came under fire in 2012 after a shooting at the office of the Narcotics Task Force of Jackson County went unreported, though a grand jury later indicted the former commander, Jackie Trussell, in the incident. Byrd did not disclose information about the shooting when it occurred, though he later described it as accidental.

Also, the Sun Herald reported Sunday on allegations by John Mark Stahl, who says Byrd kicked him twice in the groin when he was arrested in June 2012 for stealing a deputy's patrol car. Stahl said agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation have interviewed him about his capture and he made the same allegations to them.

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