November 29, 2013 9:52:02 AM
JACKSON -- The Jackson County sheriff has agreed to plead guilty to witness tampering after he admitted kicking a handcuffed suspect and trying to recruit a deputy to help him cover it up, according to court documents.
In federal court papers filed Monday in Mobile, Ala., Sheriff Mike Byrd signed a document admitting he tried to persuade Jackson County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Goff to cover up Byrd's kicking of a handcuffed suspect in the groin after a car chase in June 2012.
Byrd is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Mobile on Dec. 10 to enter a plea to the charge.
The U.S. Attorney has agreed to recommend a sentence of six months' house arrest and six months' probation for the sheriff, who is in his fourth term in the coastal county.
Byrd also faces a 31-count indictment in state court in Mississippi charging him with fraud, extortion, embezzlement, witness tampering and perjury. The Aug. 30 indictment alleges Byrd pushed an arrest in a murder case, even though a detective thought the suspect was innocent, and snooped on employees at a restaurant that refused to accept a check from him. It also accuses Byrd of using his office to retaliate against people he considered political and personal foes, including an area police chief and an alderman.
Byrd has pleaded not guilty to those charges.
Joe Sam Owen, Byrd's lawyer, wrote in an email that "there have been no meaningful discussions with the state" regarding its charges. Trial is set for March.
Under state law, Byrd would be removed from office if he pleads guilty to a felony such as witness tampering.
The federal case was filed in Mobile because the June 2012 car chase that began in Jackson County ended across the state line in Alabama.
The chase followed the theft of a Jackson County patrol car by John Mark Stahl, identified in court papers only as J.M.S.
Stahl encountered deputies after a single-car accident in which he was suspected of driving while under the influence of alcohol.
Deputies stopped the patrol car after a 17-mile chase and used a stun gun on Stahl, court papers say.
Once Stahl was subdued, Byrd arrived. Stahl told the Sun Herald in August that he was facing a patrol car when Byrd told him that the theft had embarrassed the sheriff and the department, then kicked him in the groin. Stahl said Byrd then backed up and kicked him again.
Stahl told the newspaper that after he was placed in the back of a patrol car, Byrd told him 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."
Byrd admitted in court papers that less than a week after he kicked Stahl, he told Capt. Michael Wright to delete camera footage of the chase and arrest of Stahl, telling Wright, "You need to get rid of this video."
About two weeks before Byrd was indicted on state charges in August 2013, the Sun Herald newspaper published its interview with Stahl, stating the FBI was investigating. Court papers say Byrd approached Capt. Bruce Nevels, who was described as a witness in the article, and demanded Nevels "explain" the story.
On Aug. 19, Byrd said in court papers that he directed a computer technician to "wipe" his hard drive because he was concerned about others finding emails. On Aug. 29, court papers say Byrd arrived at the scene of an abandoned car where Goff was. Regarding Stahl, Byrd told Goff, "Do you remember me saying anything to that guy? Kicking or assaulting him, 'cause I don't."
The papers say Byrd made the statement "with the intent to hinder, delay or prevent the communication to a federal law enforcement office of information."
In September, after Byrd was indicted on state charges, Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence tried to revoke Byrd's bond, saying he tried to intimidate three sheriff's deputies who testified before the state grand jury. The deputies mentioned in Lawrence's effort did not include Goff, Nevels or Wright.