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Byrd, Jackson County cleared of civil rights violations

Former Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd is pictured in 2013 during one of his numerous court appearances after criminal charges forced him to resign. A federal judge has dismissed civil-rights lawsuits two men filed against the county, Byrd and one of his investigators.
Former Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd is pictured in 2013 during one of his numerous court appearances after criminal charges forced him to resign. A federal judge has dismissed civil-rights lawsuits two men filed against the county, Byrd and one of his investigators. amccoy@sunherald.com File

A federal judge has dismissed civil-rights lawsuits two Pascagoula men filed against Jackson County, former Sheriff Mike Byrd and one of his investigators after the men were detained in a child-pornography investigation but never formally charged with crimes.

U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden found no evidence that the men’s rights were violated.

Four law enforcement officers, including then-Investigator Hope Thornton-Manning, picked up Ronald Tuskan in June 2011 from his job at Ingalls, telling his employer he was under investigation for child porn. They then took him to his house, where his computer was scanned but no evidence of child porn was found.

Officers found he had a wireless connection without a password, indicating someone else could have downloaded child porn through his Wi-Fi.

The investigators went next door, where Marcus Peairs lived with his mother. She consented to a search of two computers that belonged to her son, according to court records. The investigators claimed to find evidence of child porn on one of the computers, but a grand jury concluded the evidence was insufficient to charge him.

Peairs said in his lawsuit he lost his job as a result of his arrest and was unable to find another one.

In his opinion, Ozerden found Peairs failed to show the county, Byrd and Thornton-Manning had violated his civil rights because his mother had consented to the search.

The judge also said the deputies had reason to believe probable cause existed to arrest Peairs because their information showed child porn had been downloaded to an open internet connection next door. The fact that the grand jury concluded the evidence was insufficient to send Peairs to trial was not enough to show the arrest was improper, Ozerden said.

Ozerden earlier dismissed Tuskan’s case, finding he’d failed to establish the search warrant for his house was invalid or the search unreasonable as Tuskan claimed.

Two other cases against the county, Byrd and Thornton-Manning also have been dismissed.

A jury found in April that Jackson County, Byrd and Thornton-Manning did not maliciously prosecute former Ocean Springs Alderman James Hagan on a charge of embezzling a city computer. The embezzlement charge had previously been dismissed for lack of evidence.

In a fourth case, William Layne Brushaber, the county and Byrd agreed to dismissal of Brushaber’s lawsuit alleging malicious prosecution, defamation and other crimes.

Brushaber lost his job as a Pascagoula police dispatcher after being accused in March 2011 of possessing child pornography. Brushaber was never formally charged with a crime. More than one person had used the computer, Brushaber told investigators, and he had an open wireless connection others could have used to download images.

Byrd was forced to resign in December 2013 amid federal and state investigations that led him to plead guilty to charges involving intimidation of a witness and attempting to cover up his physical abuse of a man stopped after he stole a patrol car.

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

Staff writer Margaret Baker contributed to this report.

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