GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A coast lawyer said ultimately it's Jackson County taxpayers who will pay for former Sheriff Mike Byrd's crimes. Attorney Michael Crosby said the price tag will be in the millions. Crosby represents three clients who accuse Byrd of misconduct. He told WLOX that Byrd's guilty pleas will be what he needs to make his cases.
The newspaper clippings hanging on Crosby's wall are from when he successfully defended Dr. David Allen from criminal charges brought by the Jackson County Sheriff Department. Crosby is now focusing on civil lawsuits for Dr. Allen, another physician Dr. Matthew Wallack, and for John Stahl who is the man Byrd admitted in federal court to kicking while handcuffed and then trying to cover it up.
"He's not denying for one second that's he's guilty of doing what he did," said Crosby of Stahl. "He took a police car, and he went across state lines with it. He acknowledges that and he wants to accept whatever the consequences are for those. What he did not deserve was the brutal and vicious beating that he received."
Crosby said while his clients were facing a tough road initially in trying to win the lawsuits, Byrd's guilty pleas change everything. Byrd pleaded guilty to intimidation of a witness on a state charge and pleaded guilty to a federal charge of witness tampering.
"These men knew they were victims of the sheriff's bad practices, but it was difficult to prove it because we had no one at first who was willing to stand up and tell the truth," Crosby said. "Now the good thing about the litigation is we've started the case, they're not over with. Now that the truth has come out, we can take the truth and apply it to what we have now pending. I would expect those cases to be successful because of what has now happened."
The lawsuits ask for money and reforms within the sheriff's department.
"There's been problems for a long time that have been pushed under the rug and those who have power to change it chose not to," Crosby said. "That's going to be a problem for Jackson County for a period of time. There have been a lot of terrible things that have happened and now that the truth is beginning to come out it's going to cost some money."
How much money? Crosby said a lot. And he said it won't likely be Byrd footing the bill.
"Definitely with the number of lawsuits and just the actual damage alone certainly it will get in the millions of dollars range," he said. "The lawsuits are brought against all the parties individually and in their official capacity. The truth of the matter is the one who ends up paying the bill in the end will be the taxpayers. It always goes back to them. In some of my litigation, they actually had to raise the tax base so they'd have sufficient funds to pay the judgements. That will happen unfortunately. You would like to get the money from the person or individual who actually broke the law, but it doesn't work that way."
Crosby also represented the family of Jesse Lee Williams who was beaten to death by a deputy in the Harrison County Jail. Harrison County settled with the estate for $3.5 million. Former jailer Ryan Teel was sentenced to life in prison for Williams' death.
"I've kind of become known for this area of the law where I bring litigation against bad officers who hurt people," Crosby said. "You would be surprised that my best and most frequent source of information is good officers who don't want to work with bad officers."