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[March 11, 2014]
Former Jackson County sheriff sentenced to house arrest, probation [The Sun Herald :: ]
(Sun Herald (Biloxi, MS) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 11--MOBILE -- Former four-term Sheriff Mike Byrd declined to comment after he was sentenced Tuesday to six months house arrest and six months probation for knowingly engaging in misleading conduct, or witness tampering.
Chief Judge William H. Steele imposed the sentence in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Alabama, also fining Byrd $3,000 and ordering him to pay a $100 assessment fee.
The crime carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years and a $250,000 fine, but Steele imposed the sentence the U.S. Attorney's Office recommended in the case.
Prior to sentencing, the judge pointed out the court had received about 50 letters of support for Byrd, describing him as a "dedicated." Byrd also told the judge: "Your honor, I've given my life to law enforcement. During that time, I lost my son as a law enforcement officer. I ask you to please consider the recommendation of the United States Attorney." Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Bordenkircher said he was pleased with the outcome of the case.
"I think it's important for the people in the Southern District to know that everyone is treated the same whether you are law enforcement, non law enforcement, rich or poor," Bordenkircher said Byrd's attorney, Joe Sam Owen, said Byrd does have a job now in construction and should be allowed to leave his home to go to work and church, though that will all have to be approved.
As part of the plea deal, Byrd admitted he ordered computer evidence and video footage from a patrol car's dashboard camera destroyed in the case of John Mark Stahl.
Stahl was arrested June 19, 2012, on a charge accusing him of stealing sheriff's Deputy Christopher Goff's patrol car.
Byrd admitted he kicked Stahl in the groin after Stahl had been handcuffed and was "unresisting." It was less than a week later, the plea agreement said, when Byrd told a deputy to delete from his patrol car the dashboard camera footage that showed what happened in the case.
"You need to get rid of this video," court records quote Byrd telling the deputy.
The Sun Herald interviewed Stahl in August while he was in custody in Rankin County.
"The feds came to me and told me they were waiting on me to get there so they could talk to me because they were investigating the sheriff for other acts of physical violence and things at the (Jackson County) jail," Stahl said.
Stahl estimated he led authorities on a 17-mile chase ending in Mobile County.
Stahl said he was hoping to get to Mobile to call an attorney, but admits he was "confused." He said he stopped when he saw three Mobile County sheriff's deputies had set up a roadblock.
When he tried to get out of the patrol car, he said another Jackson County patrol car pulled up beside him, blocking the driver's side door. He said he decided to pull up a little more so he could get out, but a Jackson County car rammed the rear of the car he was in, and "the car went in the ditch." Then, he said he was pulled out of the car and thrown in the dirt. "I told them I was surrendering. I didn't actually resist," he said.
Also, he said, "I told (a deputy) I was sorry for taking the car, at which time he told me it was too late for all that. Then I got a boot in the face. I literally got a boot in my face and ... the officer stomped on my head. When I was snatched up, I was picked up and put up against the (deputy's) car, facing the car." By the time Byrd arrived, Stahl said he was standing handcuffed, facing the patrol car. 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.
After Stahl was placed in the back of the patrol car, he said 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." Stahl admitted he deserved some type of punishment, but said, "I do not deserve the physical punishment that I got." Stahl has since been sentenced to jail time, a term of three years, in the case.
Byrd talks to witnesses A federal grand jury investigated the events surrounding Stahl's arrest.
According to court records, Byrd approached Goff on Aug. 29 while he was responding to a report of 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 records said.
By that time, court records say, Byrd knew he was the subject of a federal criminal investigation and knew he may have broken the law when he kicked Stahl in the groin.
A day after the Sun Herald article was published, court records said, Byrd approached deputy Bruce Nevels, identified as a witness to Stahl's arrest in the newspaper, to demand Nevels "explain it." Byrd: 'Wipe' the hard drive Also, on Aug. 19, Byrd called an information technologist with the department to his office, court records said. When the employee arrived, Byrd said, "They ain't gonna get s--t off me!" Byrd then directed the employee to "wipe" Byrd's computer hard drive. The sheriff, records said, was concerned about someone finding emails stored on his office computer.
Byrd admitted the employee retrieved the computer tools to erase the hard drive "in such a manner that no one would know what ... (he) was doing." Byrd also told the employee to drill a hole in the computer hard drive to ensure no one could ever recover any data from it.
In addition to the federal charge, Byrd still faces sentencing Thursday on a state felony charge of intimidating a witness. Byrd had been indicted on a total of 29 felony charges of two misdemeanor charges in the state's case, but in exchange for his plea, the remaining charges were dropped.
District Attorney Tony Lawrence has recommended a sentence of 1 1/2 years of house arrest, three years of post-release supervision, a $2,000 fine, $5,000 for investigative costs along with an immediate order to step down as sheriff, which Byrd did the day he pleaded guilty to the state felony charge.
The state charges portrayed Byrd 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 a the county narcotics task force office; pressure witnesses to testify falsely before a grand jury; demand free lawn mower repair; and punish a female deputy who rebuffed his sexual advances.
As part of the plea agreement with the state, Byrd admitted he attempted to induce former deputy Chad Powell to lie to a grand jury and tell them he was struck by concrete fragments during a July 31, 2012, shooting at the office of the Narcotics Task Force of Jackson County that went unreported. Powell had actually been struck in the leg by a bullet.
___ (c)2014 The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.) Visit The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.) at www.sunherald.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
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