GULFPORT -- A Jackson County man has filed a federal suit against Jackson County, Sheriff Mike Byrd, Deputy Hope Thornton and the county's insurance carrier alleging he was the victim of false arrest, unreasonable detainment and constitutional and civil rights violations when he was picked up at his job on allegations he possessed child pornography.
Ron Tuskan is seeking a total of $20 million in punitive and compensatory damages, records show.
According to the suit, Thornton and others were acting under Byrd's direction on March 8, 2011, when they went to Tuskan's workplace and told his supervisors he was under investigation for possession of child porn on his home computer and would face arrest.
The deputies, the suit said, detained Tuskan when they placed him in the back of a patrol car and drove him to his home, where he voluntarily gave Thornton access to his home computer.
As a result of the actions of Byrd and his investigators, Tuskan's co-workers also learned of the "false" allegations Byrd and his deputies made against him.
The investigation abruptly ended, the suit says, after Thornton did a manual scan of Tuskan's home computer and found no evidence he had ever possessed child porn. Tuskan's computer had a wireless connection that was not protected by a password and could have been accessed by someone outside his home.
At all times, the suit said, Byrd, Thornton and others should have known "there was no evidentiary or factual basis with which to investigate, arrest, detain, or charge Tuskan, with any criminal conduct for possession of child pornography or downloading child pornography."
The suit alleges Byrd ordered the investigation without probable cause and told investigators to go to Tuskan's work to make the arrest.
In addition, the suit says, Byrd frequently targeted people for arrest for political or personal gain and that such investigations were so common employees had come up with an acronym for these investigations -- APE, short for Acute Political Emergency.
The suit also says they "created and maintained a culture, pattern and practice of going after his perceived enemies, conducting improper investigations, violating citizens' constitutional rights, both state and federal, which created policies, practices and procedures that led to the violation" of Tuskan's rights.
When deputies objected to Byrd's intent to target certain people, the suit says, Byrd "cursed them and threatened their jobs demoting and firing employees that refused to perform illegal and or improper investigators and or other tasks."
Byrd did not respond to the Sun Herald's request for comment Thursday.
Mike Mangum, president of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors, said he was not aware of the lawsuit.
"They usually serve the board president, and I've not been served," he said.
The suit is among at least three filed against Jackson County, Byrd, sheriff's investigators and the county insurance carrier by people who were arrested or accused of wrongdoing, but never faced any formal charges.