JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd has lashed out at his critics. In a five paragraph email to the media, Sheriff Byrd says he takes "strong issue with the implication that the Jackson County Sheriff's Department has failed to perform its role as a law enforcement agency."
The news release is written on the same stationary the sheriff's department uses to alert the media to criminal activity. It's signed by Sheriff Byrd. And it's dated July 12.
Sheriff Byrd doesn't specify why he wrote this release. He notes that in recent months, he's been unable to comment on the facts of a case that's tied up in civil litigation. He doesn't name that case. But, in recent weeks, the sheriff was sued by former Ocean Springs Alderman James Hagan.
"When law enforcement becomes the stepping stone for political gain or the target of misplaced criticism, the ability of law enforcement to ferret out criminal activity and present it for impartial and fair criminal prosecution comes to an end," Byrd writes. "I will not today, nor will I in the future, allow my office to serve as the prize target for those who have political aspirations nor will I allow those dedicated law enforcement officers who work with me and under me and who place their life on the line daily to be deterred in the efforts to investigate possible criminal activity because of threats of civil or criminal litigation."
Sheriff Byrd believes recent coverage of certain Jackson County cases by the media "cannot be measured as fair and balanced. Unfortunately, I am prevented, at this juncture, from commenting specifically or challenging the complete veracity of those accounts."
The sheriff ends his news release with this statement. "If the day comes when enforcement of the law is guided by the social, economic or political standing of a possible criminal subject, the criminal justice system will be meaningless and ineffective. Likewise, if an investigation by a prosecutorial body or the filing of a civil suit is the leverage against good faith investigation by law enforcement, then, at the end of the day, the citizens of Jackson County will become the real victim."
Shortly after the Sheriff's statement was sent to WLOX News, we received this statement from District Attorney Tony Lawrence: "My office has and will continue to perform the duties required by Mississippi law. I cannot engage in a public debate about matters pending before a grand jury, which are mandated by law to be secret."