Former Jasper police chief Rodney Pearson is speaking out for the first time since he was fired in 2012, and for the first time since settling his racial discrimination lawsuit against the city and others for a record amount of $831,000.
The city says it's not an admission of any guilt, but Pearson says he was ready to go to trial next month and expose wrong-doing.
That's he believes the other side blinked.
Pearson and his wife, Sandy, say they've lived like hermits the past couple of years. The once popular Jasper husband and wife say many in their town turned against them on what should have been one of the best days of their lives.
Pearson said, "February 14th, when I was appointed police chief, it was just like we turned into the devil."
On that day in 2011, Pearson made history becoming the first African-American interim police chief in Jasper.
But Sandy says not everyone was pleased, starting with Mayor Mike Lout. She said, "The mayor promised someone else the job, and he was mad when it didn't happen. He didn't get his way, and he was mad, and so he did whatever he had to do."
Pearson agrees calling Lout "the ringleader" of a conspiracy to get him out, a conspiracy Pearson says only got worse when council made him the permanent chief on Good Friday in 2011.
Pearson says Lout took to the airwaves of KJAS, Jasper's main radio station owned by Mayor Lout.
He said, "Everyday they report something negative about the police department."
Pearson says it was from KJAS that the group "League of Concerned Citizens" came into being.
In a deposition, Jasper businesswoman and former city councilperson Gloria Monzingo said the mayor's girlfriend, Debbie Foster, who's also the radio station's sales director created the political group to recall the three Black council members who had voted to hire Pearson.
The mayor's attorney, Mike Getz, says the group paid for air time, promoting the recall, but Foster admitted a link that was on the radio station's web site was not paid advertising.
And in a deposition, KJAS reporter Steve Stewart acknowledged it was inappropriate for a political group to have a link on a news web site.
Foster's attorney, Kent Chambers said, "After a city council meeting during which some Jasper PD officers expressed concern about Pearson's lack of experience, Pearson demoted them. One such officer was Debbie Foster's son, Garrett, who was promptly reassigned from detective to night patrol. Is it really any surprise Debbie Foster was one of the many voicing opposition to Pearson?"
Pearson told us his own officers gave him problems. He said, "There was a couple within the department who quit their job because they said they weren't going to work for 'racial slur'."
Pearson says the officers would stage sickouts in protest of him, and Captain Gerald Hall, who in a deposition said Mayor Lout had told him he would get the chief's job, admitted to spying on Pearson, even going by Pearson's home, outside the city limits while on the clock.
Hall said he would just swing by while investigating other cases in the area, but he could not specify a case.
Pearson said this about Hall, "He said he did it everyday because he thought that was going to help him, probably would help him win his lawsuit against the city to come by and spy on me."
The League of Concerned Citizens was successful in a petition drive to force the recall election that removed the three council members.
But Monzingo admitted that at least two signatures were not signed by individuals. She testified, rather, that they were attained from individuals who authorized them but were unable to sign them at the time.
"She conducted herself under the obligation as she understood it." said Keith Stanley, Monzingo's attorney.
The affected council members requested an investigation, but Mayor Lout removed the item from the agenda.
In June 2012, the newly elected council's first order of business became to fire Pearson.
Pearson says it was an ambush that everyone apparently know about, except him.
Pearson said, "Boom, the guns start flying and they all started passing these handwritten scripts."
In a deposition, Mayor Lout admits to meeting with retired Jasper police chief Harlan Alexander about replacing Pearson before Pearson was even fired.
Opponents of Pearson argue that he was not qualified, but Pearson, who served 21 years as a state trooper says he was the target of racism.
The Pearsons, who are an interracial couple, say they never faced racial discrimination until Pearson became police chief. Since the controversy, Sandy Pearson says she too lost her job of 17 years.
Pearson said, "It sickens me to know we are in the 21st century, and things like this go on."
Pearson sued the city and others accused of taking part in his termination, and last week a settlement of $831,000 was reached.
The city's attorneys say it was not an admission of guilt, Pearson disagrees. He said, "Innocent people don't pay $831,000."
The Pearsons have moved to the Houston area, and have no plans of returning to Jasper.
Pearson is working as an emergency medical technician, he feels vindicated but fears for African-Americans in Jasper.
He told us he does not believe African-Americans in Jasper should feel safe.
Here's a breakup of how the $831,000 will be paid: $350,000 will come from city funds. The city's insurance will cover $450,000. $30,000 will be paid by Debbie Foster's insurance, and $1,000 will come from Gloria Monzingo.
Getz said the mayor did not have to pay anything towards the settlement. He says they were ready to go to trial and not settle.
Getz says initially Pearson was seeking $2 million from the city. He says the city's insurance thought it would be in Jasper's best interest to settle the claim. But Pearson's attorney, Cade Bernsen, says they never asked for $2 million.
Getz says the mayor lets his radio news staff handle news related to the city and he distances himself from it, because of his position.
The city maintains it was poor performance and low morale in the police department that led to Pearson's firing, not racism.
Attorney J. Keith Stanley, of Fairchild, Price, Haley & Smith, LLP in Center, Texas represents Jasper businesswoman and former City Council member Gloria Monzingo. Stanley issued the following statement on Monday morning.
Throughout the history of the Pearson case, Gloria Monzingo has attempted to stay above the fray of the incessant grandstanding of Mr. Pearson and his attorneys. However, following the stunningly biased and defamatory story appearing on KBMT 12 last night, she cannot allow those misrepresentations to stand unchallenged.
Ms. Monzingo is a business person and resident of Jasper, Texas, in addition to a former council person for the City of Jasper. Without question, she disagreed with the choice of Mr. Pearson for the position of police chief, as did a large number of people. However, that disagreement rested solely in his qualifications, or more specifically, his lack of qualifications. As has been pointed out repeatedly, at the time of his hiring by the city council, Mr. Pearson was a retired state trooper with no experience – none – in either a municipal police agency, supervision of a police agency, or the general management of any governmental or other entity.
KBMT's report stated that Ms. Monzingo admitted that certain signatures obtained during the Jasper city council recall effort were forged. Ms. Monzingo did not make any such statement and, in fact, testified that the signatures were properly obtained. KBMT's story misrepresents her testimony and is defamatory to her. Moreover, KBMT made these statements without even allowing Ms. Monzingo the opportunity to respond to the unfounded allegations.
KBMT also failed to note that the city council members who were recalled raised these same issues in federal court at the time of the recall election. Despite those allegations, the federal court did not prevent the recall election from occurring. Moreover, the citizens of Jasper, whether for the recall or against it, had the opportunity to cast their vote and support to whichever side of the debate they chose – the same right Ms. Monzingo exercised.
Throughout this case, Ms. Monzingo has maintained that she did not act in any improper way and still denies any wrongdoing. Ms. Monzingo did, in fact, agree to settle the claim against her for a nominal amount (1/1000th of the total settlement). This agreement was made simply for financial reasons – to proceed to trial to protect her First Amendment right would have incurred far greater expense than the $1,000.00 for which she settled.
Ms. Monzingo believed the city council exhibited poor judgment in selecting Mr. Pearson for the position when numerous other applicants, both Caucasian and African-American, had far greater experience and qualifications. Acting on this belief, she participated in the recall effort of the city council members responsible for what was, in her mind, an extremely poor decision. The United States Constitution, the Texas Constitution and a significant number of court cases over the past two centuries have assured all citizens, including Ms. Monzingo, the right to express her opinion and vote. As former Supreme Court Justice Brennan wrote in 1964, "The general proposition that freedom of expression upon public questions is secured by the First Amendment has long been settled by our decisions. The constitutional safeguard, we have said, ‘was fashioned to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people.'" As the recall election proved, the people of Jasper desired political change.