Jasper, Texas Chief of Police Rodney Pearson has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming he has experienced discrimination from the mayor and city council of Jasper ever since taking the position last April.
Pearson filed his claim May 9 and his lawyers say the racism begins with Mayor Mike Lout and his supporters.
The action is part of the flurry of racially tinged developments that have surfaced in the East Texas town of 7,600 recently, all stemming from the hiring of Pearson, the first African American chief of police in a town that is 46 percent White and 44 percent Black and where only four of the police department’s 29 employees are Black.
"This kind of case is the reason I went to law school. We're going to fight them," said Cade Bernsen, Pearson’s attorney. “They hired him and the mayor got angry and a group of his friends got angry. They said 'We want you gone- and we want the city council who put you there gone.'"
The town has been at the center of racial controversy since James Byrd, Jr., a Black resident, was dragged for over a mile from a pickup truck to his death in 1998.
Pearson, then a highway patrolman, found Byrd’s body the night of his death and race relations in Jasper have yet to improve.
Tension in the city started to boil early last year when Lout, who is White, promised the chief of police position to Capt. Gerald Hall, who is White, without any real authority to do so. Pearson was selected instead by the five-member council that at the time was 80 percent Black.
This infuriated local citizens enough to create a new organization, the League of Concerned Citizens (LCC), determined to replace Pearson.
"Can you believe this????????????," asked LCC leader and founder, Vickie Stewart in a Facebook posting when Pearson’s new position was announced. In response, another LCC member, Lance Caraway replied "I'LL SAY IT !!! STUPID N-----!!!"
All three of the other candidates for the position filed reverse discrimination suits and the LCC engineered the removal of two Black city council members, while a third retired. The council is now 80 percent White, and according to Bernsen, there has been talk of a plan to oust Pearson within the coming weeks.
The petition that got the council members fired last year was made up of only white signatures and was proven by FBI analysts to include several forged signatures.