Jackson County

Records: Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd to plead guilty to federal felony charge

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd has agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge of knowingly engaging in misleading conduct, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, court records show.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of Alabama has agreed to recommend Byrd, 64, serve six months under house arrest and six months' probation in exchange for a guilty plea. The judge does not have to follow that recommendation.

The four-term sheriff is scheduled to be arraigned on the federal charge and enter a plea Dec. 10 before U.S. District Court Chief Judge William H. Steele in Mobile.

In the documents Byrd signed as part of the plea agreement, he admitted he ordered computer evidence and footage from a patrol car's dashboard camera destroyed in the case that led to the federal charge.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has agreed not to bring any additional charges against Byrd regarding events that led to the federal plea -- the June 19, 2012, arrest of John Mark Stahl on charges of stealing deputy Christopher Goff's patrol car.

Byrd admits as part of his plea that he kicked Stahl in the groin after Stahl had been handcuffed and was "unresisting." Less than a week later, Byrd told a deputy to delete from his patrol car camera the video footage that showed events surrounding Stahl's arrest. "You need to get rid of this video," court records quote Byrd telling the deputy.

The Sun Herald interviewed Stahl in August regarding his arrest.

Using his influence

By the time Byrd arrived, Stahl said, he stood handcuffed, facing a patrol car. He said Byrd told him the incident embarrassed him and his department. He said Byrd kicked him in the groin, then backed up a little and kicked him again.

"I took a couple of deep breaths," Stahl said. "My knees buckled, but I didn't go to the ground." A deputy was holding Stahl up against the patrol car, Stahl said.

After he was placed in the back of a patrol car, Stahl said, "he (Byrd) said he was going to use every bit of influence and power that he had to make sure that I spent the rest of my life in prison for embarrassing him, his office and his officer."

According to court records, a federal grand jury investigated events surrounding Stahl's arrest.

According to federal court records, Byrd approached Goff on Aug. 29 while Goff was responding to a call about an abandoned vehicle.

Byrd said: "Do you remember me saying anything to that guy (Stahl)? Kicking him or assaulting him, 'cause I don't," the court record says. By this time, according to court records, Byrd knew he was the subject of a federal criminal investigation and may have violated the law when he kicked Stahl in the groin.

The day the Sun Herald article was published, Byrd approached deputy Bruce Nevels, identified as a witness to Stahl's arrest, to demand Nevels "explain it," the federal court records say.

'Wiping' a hard drive

In addition, court records say, Byrd on Aug. 19 called an information technologist with the department to his office and when the employee arrived, Byrd said, "They ain't gonna get s--t off me!" He then directed the employee, Sherwood Beckham, to "wipe" Byrd's computer hard drive. The sheriff was concerned about emails stored on his office computer.

Beckham, the records say, retrieved his computer forensic tools "in such a manner that no one would know what Beckham was doing." Byrd then told Beckham to drill a hole in the computer hard drive to ensure no one could recover any data. Beckham, records say, did as he was instructed. Beckham then installed a new hard drive in Byrd's office computer, but Byrd said his emails were still there and started deleting them as he spoke to Beckham.

The pending federal plea is the latest criminal case involving Byrd. District Attorney Tony Lawrence charged him in August with 29 felony charges and two misdemeanors. 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 in the county 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.