Sheriff Mike Byrd fired deputy who was indicted, but has no plans to step down himself

But sheriff has no plans to step down after his own indictment

mbbaker@sunherald.comAugust 31, 2013 

JACKSON COUNTY -- A lawyer for Sheriff Mike Byrd, who was indicted Friday on 31 criminal charges, has said the four-term sheriff has no plans to resign.

But just last year Byrd fired a deputy who had been indicted, citing department policy.

In fact, just five days after Jackie Trussell, former commander of the Narcotics Task Force of Jackson County, was indicted on a misdemeanor criminal charge, Byrd sent him a memo: "Effective 11-21-12, you are relieved of duty without pay due to being indicted on a misdemeanor charge."

'Incompentencey'

In the memo, Byrd cited a civil service regulation regarding Sheriff's Office standard operating procedures as reasons for ending Trussell's employment: "Incompetency, inefficiency, inattention to duty, illegal conduct, dishonesty, intemperance, immoral conduct, insubordination, discourteous treatment of the public or fellow employees or any other act of omission or commissioning tending to injure public service."

Trussell was indicted on the simple assault charge after he was involved in a shooting at the county task force office that went unreported. Byrd did not disclose information about the shooting when it occurred.

Among the charges outlined in the 14-page indictment against Byrd are allegations he committed fraud and embezzlement when he allegedly ordered Trussell in October 2012 to conduct surveillance on Moss Point Police Chief Keith Davis after Davis first exposed information about the shooting. In addition, Byrd is facing two charges of hindering prosecution for allegedly issuing orders to conceal evidence from the task force shooting and by attempting to conceal the facts about it from the four city police chiefs who served on the task force board at the time.

Further charges

Another charge, tampering with

a witness, accuses Byrd of trying to further conceal facts in the case by telling the agent who was shot to say concrete fragments had struck him when in fact it was a bullet Trussell shot.

Still, despite the 29 felony offense and two misdemeanor charges spelled out in the indictment, Byrd has shown no signs of stepping down or following his own office's civil service regulations governing the employment of deputies in the aftermath of an indictment.

It is unknown if the state charges are the only charges that might be filed against Byrd.

Testimony from two key grand juries who heard evidence in the cases resulting in the indictment has been ordered turned over to the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office. Circuit Judge Robert Krebs issued the order, which says that testimony will assist in an investigation into "allegations of impropriety" also believed to be tied to Byrd and the Sheriff's Office.

District Attorney Tony Lawrence asked for the order Aug. 15. It says more than one grand jury heard testimony in the case at issue, including testimony from a grand jury who heard Byrd testify. In the indictment against Byrd, one of the charges, perjury, accuses him of perjuring himself when he told a grand jury no one had attempted to hide the shooting at the task force office, though the evidence suggested it was Byrd himself who had covered up the shooting.

Though the FBI will not comment on any ongoing investigation, Byrd's office does have access to hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grant money it receives annually. The Sheriff's Office first became eligible for the grant money in March 20000, shortly after Byrd became sheriff.

Byrd has often used the grant money to pay for equipment and overtime for deputies, among other things, including an annual federal meth grant the office has received. Byrd caught some guff from the media and his challengers in his 2011 campaign over his meth billboards, which were funded by a $3,000 federal grant. The billboards carried the message "Meth = death" but the billboards also show a giant smiling photo of the sheriff.

In addition, John Mark Stahl has said federal investigators have interviewed him regarding the events surrounding his arrest for stealing a Jackson County patrol car in June 2012. After he was taken into custody, Stahl said, Byrd twice kicked him in the groin and a deputy put "a boot in his face" and "stomped (him) on the head." Stahl said Byrd told him the patrol-car incident embarrassed him and his deputies, then Byrd kicked him, backed up a little and kicked him again. Stahl said he told federal investigators the same thing he told the Sun Herald about the alleged assault, which took place at the time of his arrest.

Byrd's next move is whether he will go to court to enter his plea, guilty or not guilty, during an arraignment on the 31 criminal charges served Friday. He could waive the arraignment and enter not-guilty pleas. He is free on a $31,000 bond.

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