State: Sheriff Mike Byrd entitled to pension, even after felony conviction

Byrd still entitled to state pension, even after felony conviction

mbbaker@sunherald.comDecember 3, 2013 

PASCAGOULA -- Sheriff Mike Byrd will continue to receive his state pension even if he pleads guilty in Alabama next week to a federal charge of misleading conduct toward another, according to the Public Employees' Retirement System of Mississippi.

"There is no state law … that addresses anything as far as felonies or convictions regarding benefits," PERS executive director Pat Robertson said. "In absence of any statutory authorities or statutory limitations, an individual is entitled to the benefits."

Byrd, a four-term sheriff, is scheduled to plead guilty to the charge Tuesday in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Alabama.

In Mississippi and other states, such as Arkansas, no law prevents a public official from receiving his or her state pension even after a federal or state felony conviction.

But that's not the case in all states.

In Alabama, for example, a law passed in 2012

revokes a pubic official's right to receive their pension upon a felony conviction related to their specific duties. The same is true in Georgia, where laws were enacted in 1985 and revised in 1999 that say a public employee's pensions can be revoked if they are convicted of crimes related to their public duties.

In the federal case, Byrd has admitted he ordered computer evidence and footage from a patrol car's dashboard camera destroyed in the case of John Mark Stahl, who was arrested June 19, 2012, in the theft of a deputy's patrol car. Byrd in the plea agreement has admitted to kicking Stahl in the groin after Stahl had been handcuffed and was "unresisting."

In addition, Byrd admitted to asking another deputy if he remembered Byrd kicking Stahl in the groin though the sheriff already knew by then he was the subject of a federal criminal investigation into the incident.

The Sun Herald interviewed Stahl in August and he said Byrd promised "he was going to use every bit of influence and power that he had to make sure that I (Stahl) spent the rest of my life in prison for embarrassing him, his office, and his officer."

A day after the Sun Herald reported the allegations, the agreement said, Byrd went up to a deputy identified as a witness in the Sun Herald's story and asked him to "explain it."

Byrd has also admitted enlisting an employee's help to erase the sheriff's computer hard drive and to drill holes in the hard drive to ensure no one could ever recover any data from it. The employee, the agreement said, complied with Byrd's wishes.

In addition to the federal charge, Byrd is facing 31 state charges, which include 29 felonies and two misdemeanor offenses. Byrd has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The state charges against Byrd portray him as a sheriff who allegedly used his office to retaliate against perceived enemies; order deputies and office staff to raise money for private causes; conceal a shooting at the narcotics task force office; pressure witnesses to testify falsely in grand jury cases; demand free lawn mower repair; and punish a female deputy who rebuffed his sexual advances.

The state charges, as listed: 10 counts each of fraud and embezzlement, one perjury charge, and two charges each of second-degree hindering prosecution, witness tampering, extortion, attempting to persuade another to commit perjury and intimidating a law enforcement officer on duty.

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