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Former Jasper police chief reaches record settlement - 12 News KBMT and K-JAC. News, Weather and Sports for SE Texas

Former Jasper police chief reaches record settlement with city

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The Former Jasper Police Chief has reached a settlement with the city in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Rodney Pearson was fired in 2012 after serving 16 months as police chief. According to his attorney, Pearson has settled with the City of Jasper for $831,000.

According to 12News file stories, the day of Pearson's termination Mayor Mike Lout said Pearson was fired because he wasn't doing his job as Police Chief.

Pearson was the city's first black police chief and he argued the sole reason he was fired was because of his race.

The city argued that Pearson was terminated because he had not initially qualified for the job under its scoring system for hiring.

12News attempted to contact Mayor Lout Thursday afternoon. He released a statement through his attorney, noting the statement is not made in his capacity as mayor.

Lout said he "categorically deny that former Jasper Police Chief Rodney Pearson was terminated on the basis of his race. The evidence that was developed in this case did not show anything other than a crafty attempt to manipulate facts in order to extort money from the citizens of Jasper." His full statement is included at the bottom of this story.

Cade Bernsen, an attorney for Pearson, issued the following news release Thursday:

After wrongfully terminating Jasper's first black Police Chief because of his race, the City of Jasper and other Co-Defendants agreed to pay former Chief of Police Rodney Pearson $831,000.00 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit he filed over two years ago. This settlement is the largest Employment Discrimination verdict/settlement in Jasper County history and one if not the largest in East Texas history.

The claims alleged against the City of Jasper were discrimination under Title VII, violation of §1981; violations of procedural and substantive due process, violations of the Texas Government Code and two separate claims for conspiracy under §1983 and §1985(3).

On February 14, 2011, Rodney Pearson made history becoming Jasper's first African American Interim Chief of Police. What ensued was akin to a cheap rendition of Blazing Saddles, minus the humor. What the evidence showed was that Rodney Pearson was more than qualified to be Jasper's Police Chief and the sole reason for his termination was because of his race.

In an effort to prevent Chief Pearson from becoming Jasper's first full-time Police Chief, on February 17, 2011, City of Jasper officials intentionally posted different qualification and education requirements than were set forth in Jasper's handbook. Additionally, Jasper officials attempted to implement a "scoring system" or "matrix" that had never been used for any pervious white Chief and was not used to hire the current white Chief. During this litigation the City admitted that this "scoring system" was tailored to and founded upon the inaccurate job  posting. Neither the scoring system nor the changed job posting were ever approved by the then majority black City Council.

WRONGFUL DISCLOSURE OF PERSONNEL FILE

Despite numerous individuals applying for the full-time Chief position, the City (without the knowledge or consent of the City Council) hired a private investigating firm to go through Chief Pearson's life with a fine tooth comb. Never before had the City gone to such lengths with previous white Chiefs.

On April 21, 2011 the City released Chief Pearson's un-redacted personnel file (including his social security number and the names of his family members) to a private citizen without Chief Pearson's permission or knowledge and in blatant violation of the Open Records Act. The City never bothered to ask for or receive a written opinion from the Texas Attorney General's office as to whether the City was even required to release Pearson's private information. KJAS Radio owned and operated by Defendant James M. Lout (Mayor of Jasper) then systematically cherry picked negative components from Chief Pearson's file to portray him as a "thief" and a "criminal" in an attempt to stoke racial animosity in the community. In the numerous articles that followed, KJAS mentioned nothing of the numerous promotions, awards and commendations Pearson had received during his 20 years with the elite Texas Department of Public Safety and as Jasper's Volunteer Fire Chief.

On April 22, 2011 Pearson tore down long held racial barriers by becoming the first black full-time Police Chief in Jasper's History.

FIRST RECALL IN JASPER'S HISTORY

The recall of Councilmen Adams, Land and Norsworthy were based upon the bogus matrix, false job posting, and their refusal to fire Pearson. A group of all white people formed the League of Concerned Citizens lead by Defendant Debbie Foster (Mayor James M. Lout's girlfriend and employee of KJAS) to recall the black Councilmen. What was discovered during this litigation was that the recall effort by the League was run out of the KJAS radio station by Ms. Foster.

KJAS radio published and broadcasted the locations of various local businesses where blank recall petitions would be located. KJAS did not seek permission to list these businesses. The petitions were distributed by KJAS employee Foster. KJAS actually integrated the League of Concerned Citizens into the KJAS website.

As the drum beat for the recall rang out from KJAS, improprieties were exposed. Forgeries were discovered on the recall petitions. City Councilmen Adams, Norsworthy and Land requested that the City conduct an investigation. Mayor Lout unilaterally struck the Agenda Request, attempting to shield his girlfriend/employee and her cohorts from exposure. Ultimately Councilmen Adams, Norsworthy and Land were recalled. On June 11, 2012 after Pearson was terminated by the new white majority Council, Councilman Alton Scott (the last black Councilman) declared in open session, "this is racism at its finest." To this day, the City Council of Jasper has refused to investigate the apparent improprieties with this recall process.

It is ironic and telling that as this country nears the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer (1964), whereby hundreds of students of all races, colors, and creeds descended on the South to fight for equality and human dignity for black Americans, that this settlement is reached. To this day, the fight to end racism and obtain justice continues.

The pain, embarrassment and hardship the Pearson family endured can never be compensated fully in monetary terms, but their family is hopeful that yet another light is shown bright upon Jasper, Texas. The Pearsons want to thank the countless well-wishers who stood by their side during this nightmarish ordeal, and are comforted by the words:

 "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out

hate; only love can do that." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Press Release from Mike Lout:

This press release is on behalf of Mike Lout, owner and operator of KJAS Radio.  It is not on behalf of the City of Jasper, Texas, or on behalf of Mr. Lout in his capacity as Mayor of Jasper.  Mike Lout, in his individual capacity, along with KJAS were represented in this case by attorneys Mike Getz and David Vann deCordova, Jr.

Lout and KJAS categorically deny that former Jasper Police Chief Rodney Pearson was terminated on the basis of his race. The evidence that was developed in this case did not show anything other than a crafty attempt to manipulate facts in order to extort money from the citizens of Jasper.

Lout's attorney's received and reviewed the Press Release submitted by Cade Bernsen, one of Rodney Pearson's attorneys.  Cade Bernsen and his law firm are known for public grandstanding, and the press release, unfortunately, comes as no surprise. 

Moreover, and shamefully, Bernsen's recitation of the relevant facts are grossly biased, one-sided and purposefully incomplete.

For example, Bernsen conveniently neglected to mention that his client, when hired as police chief by the majority-Black council, had absolutely no municipal law enforcement or related supervisory experience, ultimately causing havoc and low department morale among other problems. It would appear that Pearson's hiring was primarily motivated by the color of his skin.

Bernsen also curiously neglected to mention that the point-scoring system about which he complains was merely used as a screening tool to narrow down the applicant pool for interviews.  Bernsen of course failed to mention that the former Jasper City Council did not use the point-system to include or to exclude Mr. Pearson or any other applicant. Further, Bernsen ignored the highly inconvenient truth that the screening tool actually resulted in the ranking of another Black applicant much higher than Mr. Pearson.  Unlike Mr. Pearson, this Black applicant not only had advanced education, i.e., a doctorate, but actual in-the-field experience as a police chief.  Mr. Pearson did not even have a four-year college degree, and had no experience whatsoever running a law enforcement agency or in supervising employees.  

 In a shameful attempt to tarnish and harm Mike Lout, Bernsen failed to mention that Lout, as Mayor, recommended the more highly qualified Black applicant over Mr. Pearson. Bernsen also ignores as an inconvenient truth that despite the screening tool, which placed Mr. Pearson nearly at the bottom of the list of applicants, that the majority-Black city council still elected to hire him to be the Chief of Police.

The investigation into Mr. Pearson's background that Bernsen complains of contained factual information that included Mr. Pearson's criminal history. Despite having access to the report, the majority –Black city council still decided to hire Pearson.

Once hired, Pearson began a campaign to systematically demote white Jasper police officers resulting in several lawsuits that were filed against the City of Jasper that cost the city tens of thousands of dollars.

Outraged citizens initiated a recall campaign to oust the elected officials who had irresponsibly hired Mr. Pearson into the position of police chief. Bernsen attempted to stop the recall campaign in Federal court, alleging many signatures were forged. He failed and the recall election was allowed to proceed and three of the councilmembers who had voted to hire Mr. Pearson were turned out of office.

Because Mr. Bernsen does not mention it, the public may also be unaware that Mr. Lout was subjected to a recall election which was unsuccessful. The recall effort against Mike Lout was organized at Mr. Walter Diggle's church, which was recently the subject of a raid by the FBI.

 Finally, it is a blatant lie that the council recall effort was "run out of the KJAS radio station" as Bernsen claims.  Advertising was sold on the radio station promoting the recall election of the councilmembers that voted to hire Mr. Pearson and KJAS would have run advertisements related to the all-Black effort to recall Mike Lout had they been requested to do so.

Regarding the settlement, the parties all agreed it would not be used as any form of admission of liability or wrongdoing.   Nevertheless, it is clear  Bernsen and his client have an agenda to pursue, apparently including the continued punishment of Jasper, and simply will not let the facts get in the way. This harms, rather than advances the cause of true justice and the elimination of racism from the sphere of government decision-making.  One day hopefully our government will hire solely on the basis of character and qualifications, ignoring the pigment of the applicant's skin as envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King.  We have far to go in this regard.

NEWS RELEASE FROM CALVERT EVANS CLARK & STELLY, L.L.P.

To avoid the uncertainties and expenses of litigation the, City of Jasper elected to settle the claims of Rodney Pearson, and in reality his race had nothing to do with his termination nor treatment by the city of Jasper. However rather than continue the protracted litigation arising from his lawsuit it was deemed in the best interests of the City and its Citizens to resolve the case so the Police Department and the City can move on with serving and protecting the citizens of Jasper without continued false allegations of racism and the distractions caused by such litigation. Although formally a D.P.S. trooper, Mr. Pearson lacked municipal police experience and objectivity ranked 15th out of 22 applicants for the police chief position.  Why? In addition to having been out of law-enforcement for almost 5 years he lacked command level experience, administrative experiences command level leadership preparation, support service experience, a bachelor or graduate degree, and nationally recognized advance technical training. You do not hear from the Pearson Camp Mayor Lout actually advocated for Chief a different black candidate with qualifications greater than those of Mr. Pearson. Also, the same job posting used in former Chief Hunters selection process was use for Pearson. Pearson had a background check as required due to his appointment as interim chief, not because he was black. The "matrix" or "scoring system" complained of by Pearson was recommended by the Texas Police Chiefs Association - it was not some ill-conceived device developed by the City -- and was, in fact, geared to municipal police experience. Why because a municipal police chief was the job to be filled. Pearson's performance as chief of the morale of the department can arguably be tied to his lack of experience in the municipal arena. Performance perceptions and poor morale in the department or what prompted a change - not race. However, due to unsupported statements and testimony of certain witnesses, combined with the fact that the City would have to pay from City funds the sum of $350,000.00 toward the settlement, and the uncertain uncertainty of litigation where truth and reason can be obscured by a smokescreen of unrelated facts and allegations of a conspiracy which never existed, the prudent thing was to settle the claim stop the expense, and move on. Not admitting racism. Not for justice. Simply at simply two and a constant barrage of meritless claims of racism and move forward.

 

 

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