JACKSON COUNTY -- Sheriff Mike Byrd's attorney calls District Attorney Tony Lawrence's motion to revoke the sheriff's bond a "reckless filing" filled with "scathing and inflammatory accusations and opinions," prompting pretrial publicity that "tramples" the sheriff'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 on 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 sheriff's detectives who say Byrd questioned them after his Aug. 30 arrest regarding their grand jury testimony.
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 if the material should be placed under seal. As a result of the public filing, Owen said, there was extensive media coverage and public comment about the attempt to revoke Byrd's bond.
The District Attorney's Office did not wish to respond Friday to Owen's filing.
Lawrence wants Byrd cited for contempt of court and his bond revoked for contacting and intimidating three witnesses -- Lt. Curtis Spiers, Sgt. Brad Lewis and Lt. Ken McClenic. Lawrence maintains Byrd violated the conditions 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." 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.
"The actions of the sheriff are a willful, direct and contemptuous violation of the order of this court."
If Byrd's bond is revoked, he will go to jail to await trial.
The defense's response
Owen said Byrd 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 him.
"Mike Byrd was only assisting his counsel in attempting to assimilate accurate facts ," Owen said. "Mike Byrd has the absolute right to participate in the defense of his case."
In addition, Owen said, Byrd "does not seek to change venue and the state should not force him to seek a change of venue."
Owen further asked that the state "instruct its witnesses accordingly" if it wishes to have them interviewed only in the presence of the district attorney, the DA's staff or investigators.
In addition, Owen noted, Byrd was conversing with three law enforcement officers who are supposed to be knowledgeable of the laws of the state.
"To suggest to this court that Mike Byrd, in some form or fashion, overreached these law enforcement officers is absolutely ludicrous," Owen said. "Really! Mike Byrd intimidated these officers? Indeed, these officers can say anything that strikes their fancy or can structure their narratives in the most negative way possible but one must ask the question that if these law enforcement officers really believed Mike was in violation of the bail order, each could have very easily terminated the conversation "
Byrd has been free on a $31,000 bond since his arrest 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.
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.
But, Owen said, the allegation Byrd was attempting to convince McClenic that the city of Ocean Springs pushed for the surveillance "is untrue."
Byrd has a status hearing in his case scheduled for Sept. 20 before Special Judge William Coleman.