JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd is finally talking publicly about the recent controversy over the county's narcotics task force.
A shooting that happened back in July at the task force office and became public last month has left the agency in disarray. One task force agent was injured during the incident. After the weapon discharge became public, he called it an accident even though a report showed it was not.
"Well, what I meant by accidentally was that the debris that hit the officer was an accident that it hit him," the sheriff explained.
Byrd was silent about the incident for weeks, he says, for a good reason.
"It states it right here in federal law that you can't release information involving internal investigations of employees, whether it's law enforcement or other," Byrd said. "So nobody has tried to cover anything up. I'm bound by law."
He feels this incident was treated differently than similar ones at other agencies in the past.
"They've had shootings go off in their department. I wasn't contacted about that because that is an internal investigation that they conduct with their employees. That's none of my business," Byrd said.
Since the shooting, the Moss Point and Pascagoula police departments have pulled out of the task force and Gautier is considering leaving. Only Ocean Springs remains. But the sheriff is holding out an olive branch of sorts.
"I certainly would welcome them back with open arms. I never asked them to leave and that's their decision. If they want to continue to do their own thing, that's fine."
Cracking down on drugs remains a priority for Byrd.
"The citizens of Jackson County are not going to suffer from this one bit," the sheriff emphasized. "We have officers that have been placed into those positions, which was two positions and we haven't missed a beat."
The case will go to the grand jury next month, but the sheriff remains confident of the outcome.
"You've got to have a victim that makes a complaint. We don't have that here. We have two officers that made a mistake, they admitted it, and they were disciplined. That's the end of the story as far as I'm concerned."
Does he have any regrets about the way everything was handled?
"No, because I've seen these things time after time again," Byrd recalled.
He also has a theory about the entire situation.
"You have politics in everything and a lot of this, I feel like, is political. And we're just going to work through it."
The narcotics task force was formed in 2000, and is funded mostly with drug forfeiture money and grants from the federal government.