Attorney calls DA's motion to revoke Byrd's bond a 'reckless filing' filled with 'scathing, inflammatory' accusations

mbbaker@sunherald.comSeptember 13, 2013 

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd


JACKSON COUNTY -- Sheriff Mike Byrd's attorney calls District Attorney Tony Lawrence's motion to revoke the sheriff's bond a "reckless filing" that is filled with "scathing and inflammatory accusations and opinions" against the sheriff, which has resulted in extensive pre-trial publicity that "tramples" upon Byrd's constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury trial in Jackson County.

Attorney Joe Sam Owen also noted in his filing in Circuit Court Friday that Lawrence should have filed his request to revoke Byrd's bond on 31 criminal charges under seal along with the statements of three detectives who say they were questioned by Byrd regarding their grand jury testimony since his arrest on Aug. 30.

At the very least, Owen said, Lawrence should have first let the court review the motion and attached narratives prior to the public filing to determine whether the material should be placed under seal. As a result of the public filing, Owen notes, there was extensive media coverage about the attempt to revoke Byrd's bond.

Lawrence wants Byrd cited for contempt of court and his bond revoked for contacting and intimidating three witnesses, specifically, Sheriff's Lt. Curtis Spiers, Sgt. Brad Lewis and Lt. Ken McClenic. Lawrence maintains Byrd violated the condition of his bond when he contacted the deputies to ask them about their grand jury testimony.

The questioning, Lawrence said, was done "in such a manner as to place pressure on witnesses to testify falsely."

In addition, he said, "the state would show the sheriff is using his position as sheriff and supervisor of witnesses to compel them to talk about their testimony and has used direct and subtle intimidation on … witnesses. The sheriff is engaging in conduct which appears to be attempting to manipulate witness testimony and harass witnesses."

If Byrd's bond is revoked, he will got to jail to await trial.

Byrd, Owen said, admits he talked to the three deputies "but not for the purpose of inquiring as to their grand jury testimony or their prospective trial testimony or to intimidate, harass or manipulate, but to elicit information about certain facts surrounding their involvement" in several of the charges pending against Byrd.

"Mike Byrd was only assisting his counsel in attempting to assimilate accurate facts …," Owen said.

Byrd has been free on a $31,000 bond since Aug. 30, when he was arrested in Ocean Springs on 29 felony charges and two misdemeanor offenses, which included 10 charges each of fraud and embezzlement and two counts each of second-degree hindering prosecution, witness tampering, extortion, intimidating an officer in the discharge of his duties and attempting to get someone to perjure themselves, along with one count of perjury.

The charges accuse Byrd of pressuring a detective to sign a criminal affidavit to arrest a man in a murder, though the deputy didn't think the man committed the crime. He's also accused of retaliating against anyone he perceived as personal or political enemies and of trying to cover up a July 2012 shooting at the office of the Narcotics Task Force of Jackson County.

In addition, Byrd is accused of ordering surveillance on a city police chief and city alderman, pressuring a female deputy to engage in sex acts, sending narcotics agents to follow a man who opposed the development of a downtown hotel in Ocean Springs and to do surveillance on employees of a Mexican restaurant after they embarrassed Byrd by refusing to accept his check during a campaign dinner.

Other charges accuse Byrd of ordering employees to solicit money for the Jackson County Sheriff's Annual Gospel Sing, using county property and county money to pay for their time and of attempting to get a police chief and deputy chief to pressure a witness to change her testimony in an embezzlement case against a former Ocean Springs Alderman James Hagan, though that charge and others against the former alderman were ultimately dismissed.

If Byrd's bond is not revoked, Lawrence is asking the courts to at least ensure the conditions of Byrd's bond are enforced, which include orders that the sheriff have no direct or indirect contact with any of the witnesses regarding their testimony, including through any third-party communication or email.

Lawrence said Byrd contacted Spiers and Lewis regarding their orders to follow the employees of the Mexican restaurant "in an attempt to persuade them and convince (Spiers and Lewis) that the operation was due to illegal immigration only, when in fact that was not true."

In addition, records show Byrd contacted McClenic in an attempt to convince him that the city of Ocean Springs had requested the surveillance on the man who opposed the development of a downtown hotel.

"The conversation with the sheriff amounted to an attempt to force Ken McClenic to testify falsely," Lawrence wrote.

Byrd has a status hearing in his case scheduled for Sept. 20.

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