Keyes

Keyes at a previous court hearing.

Notorious criminal takes last-minute plea for 20 years after shooting at deputy

A Jones County man with a long history of running from law enforcement decided not to run his luck with a jury.

Ralston “Roscoe” Sinclair Keyes, 35, admitted to shooting at Deputy Matt Bailey in January, and on Thursday morning, the defendant spoke directly to the deputy in Jones County Circuit Court.

“I sincerely apologize,” Keyes said, explaining that he was “bad off” on drugs at the time. “Please forgive me.”

Bailey accepted his apology. And Judge Dal Williamson accepted the plea agreement that was worked out between District Attorney Tony Buckley and  public defender Patrick Pacific moments before the case was set to go to trial at South Central Place.

Keyes was ordered to serve 20 years in the full-time custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections after pleading guilty to attempted assault of a law enforcement officer and possession of a weapon by a felon. He was sentenced as a habitual offender, meaning he will be required to serve his time day-for-day, with no early release, Buckley noted. He will also have to spend 10 years on post-release supervision under the MDOC.

“We were ready to go to trial,” Buckley said. “But we were all in agreement that this was for the best.”

The plea deal means that Keyes will go to prison, and there were no assurances of that happening if it were left up to the jury, even with four good witnesses and solid evidence, Buckley said.

“That’s the elephant in the room,” he said of the fact that Keyes is black and Bailey is white. “It’s 2020, and you just don’t know if a juror is going to say ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ no matter what. That’s an issue now.”

On New Year’s Day, Bailey pulled over the Chevrolet S-10 pickup that Keyes was driving on Giles Road, just off Indian Springs Church Road in the Calhoun Community. Keyes got out, fired a shot that went through the lower middle part of Bailey’s windshield, then fled on foot. Bailey never fired a shot.

That led to a massive, multi-agency manhunt for Keyes. He was captured a week later, hiding under a mattress in a residence at Payne Portable Buildings at the corner of Maxey and Lebanon roads after a JCSD armored vehicle was used to breech the door and walls of the home.

Sheriff Joe Berlin, who had taken office less than 40 hours earlier, gave the credit for the capture to U.S. Marshals, who used high-tech equipment to track Keyes’ cellphone and narrow down where he was hiding.

“The Marshals took control … we just used the armored vehicle to help out,” Berlin said. “It’s a great blessing to see everyone working together to take someone who was very dangerous to the public off the streets without anyone getting hurt.” 

A half-dozen or so gas canisters were shot into the small residence, which was constructed of portable buildings, after law enforcement called into the residence telling Keyes to surrender. 

The JCSD’s armored vehicle was used to push down the door and a front wall. A camera-equipped drone was also sent in, but it didn’t spot him. U.S. Marshals were adamant that Keyes was inside, though.

That’s when a a group of law enforcement officials, decked out in tactical gear and armed with rifles, went in and found him.

Keyes was lying on his stomach with his hands under his body, a mattress and box spring on top of him. A handgun with a round in the chamber was under his body, Sgt. J.D. Carter of the JCSD said.

“(Investigator) Wesley Waites said a prayer before they went in, and God was with the team,” Berlin said.

Laurel police and the Covington County Sheriff’s Department were among the outside agencies that assisted with the search for Keyes in the days leading up to his capture. SWAT Team medics Lance Chancellor, Joey Davis and Lee Garick, the Mississippi Highway Patrol and Lamar County SWAT Team members were on the scene along with volunteer firefighters. EMServ ambulance and a medical-transport helicopter were standing by in case they were needed. They were prepared for the worst because Keyes had already shot at law enforcement and had reportedly said he wasn’t going back to prison alive.

“He said we were going to have to shoot him, but we didn’t want to do that,” Berlin said. “I’m just glad no one was hurt.”

Grady Payne, who owns the business and the home that Keyes was hiding in, confronted the handcuffed suspect as he was escorted to the car that transported him to the Jones County Adult Detention Center. He warned Keyes that he would shoot him if he came back on his property.

“You won’t have to worry about them,” he said, referring to law enforcement as he put his finger in Keyes’ face. “You cost me a lot of money.”

When asked by a reporter why he shot at the deputy, Keyes said, “Sir, I would never, ever shoot a police officer.”

But on Thursday, he admitted to shooting at one.

Keyes has a long history of run-ins with the law and running from the law. He also had a long prison sentence that he was supposed to be serving at the time he shot at Bailey. 

In February 2015, Keyes was ordered to serve 15 years in the full-time custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections after pleading guilty to possession of methamphetamine, possession of a controlled substance and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. A charge of felony fleeing was dropped in exchange for his guilty plea. MDOC’s parolee page on Keyes says that he was eligible for release on Nov. 20, 2025. It’s not clear when and why he was released almost six years earlier than that. 

In March 2013, Laurel police caught Keyes after he went down the fire escape of a hotel, dropped a backpack and ran from them. When they returned to his hotel room, they found 12.6 grams of meth and a handgun.

In December 2014, he led deputies on a chase through the Hebron area before fleeing on foot and being caught in a hotel at a casino on the Coast three days later. When law enforcement closed in on his room, he went into a closet and tried to tear out the ceiling and go through the ventilation system. That gamble didn’t pay off. Members of the JCSD along with Gulfport police and the U.S. Marshal’s Service arrested him.

Keyes was one of the county’s most wanted suspects at the time. He had been arrested the previous October on Highway 84 West when deputies found him hiding behind the rear seat of an SUV with Oxycodone and an assault rifle. He was handcuffed and put in a deputy’s car, but he slipped his cuffed hands to the front, squeezed through the car’s “cage” between the front and back seats, drove off in the cruiser and abandoned it on Indian Springs Road.

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