- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 21, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The head of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics is retiring after the state’s drug-fighting agency came under scrutiny for sexual harassment.

Gov. Phil Bryant on Wednesday announced Sam Owens would retire effective Nov. 1 and be replaced that day by former federal prosecutor John Dowdy.

Bryant cited Dowdy’s experience in prosecuting drug crimes. MBN agents often testify in federal court on drug cases they investigated as part of task forces that include local officers and federal agents. The volume of such cases is particularly high in Gulfport’s federal court, and Dowdy served on the executive committee of the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force.

“John’s decades of experience as a prosecutor make him a perfect fit to lead MBN,” Bryant said in a statement.

Owens had headed the Bureau of Narcotics since 2014. He joined the branch of the Department of Public Safety in 1978, serving as agent, district captain, regional major, director of training, special operations commander and deputy director.

“I’m retiring. I’m going to the house,” Owens told The Clarion-Ledger (https://on.thec-l.com/2dkqzPA). “I’m 68 years old. I’m going home and spending time with family. I’m going to be with my grandkids.”

Dowdy will take the reins of the bureau just months after the agency settled a sexual harassment case alleging misconduct by Deputy Director Mike Perkins, who subsequently retired. Bryant spokesman Clay Chandler said Owens’ decision to retire “was his and his alone.”

Dowdy told The Associated Press he doesn’t know much about that situation and can’t comment. Overall, he said MBN agents “are working really good narcotics cases across the state,” but said he might seek to have the agency focus more on opioid and heroin distribution.

“One of the things I want to do is make sure we’re utilizing our resources in an effective way and make sure we have the most effective narcotics program we can have,” he said.

Dowdy, at one time the chief criminal prosecutor for federal courts in the southern half of the state, left the U.S. Attorney’s office in May after working there since 1988. The Copiah County resident said Wednesday that he left after considering it for months because he was burned out.

Since then, the 50-year-old Dowdy said, “I’ve been doing a lot of fishing, a little bit of ranching and just trying to re-energize and recharge my batteries.” He said Bryant called him and asked him to take the post recently.

In 2014, a state judge criticized Dowdy’s decision to subpoena records relating to corruption in the state Department of Marine Resources.

The records were being sought by the Sun Herald, and Dowdy subpoenaed them to show them to a grand jury.

The state Court of Appeals ruled the records were exempt from disclosure because they were part of a criminal investigation, setting aside the lower court’s contempt ruling and fines against state Auditor Stacey Pickering and others. The lower court judge never sanctioned Dowdy.

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