Mississippi black troopers demand reforms

Published 12:13 am Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A group of black troopers is demanding the removal or demotion of nearly a dozen Mississippi Department of Public Safety administrators and a change in the way promotions are awarded.

The Mississippi Central State Troopers Coalition is also seeking a criminal investigation into allegations of steroid and extortion charges, according to the group’s list of 23 recommendations obtained by The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson.

Specific details of those allegations were not revealed.

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Other recommendations include having the agency review how it reprimands troopers and assigning black troopers to the New Albany office, where the group says there are none.

A DPS spokesman said the agency has no comment on the recommendations.

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, in a letter made public Wednesday, asked the Department of Public Safety to begin the process of ridding itself of a system that’s relegated black troopers to the lower ranks.

The agency “discriminated against blacks as a class because of their race with respect to assignment, demotions, discharges, discipline, harassment, hiring, intimidation, hostile work environment, promotions and the overall terms and conditions of their employment,” the EEOC said.

The Department of Public Safety was given 14 days to respond.

Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson said Wednesday in an e-mailed statement that the EEOC’s report was vague and lacked specifics.

Simpson said the agency “will continue reviewing any potential merits of the allegations and any action, if necessary, that needs to be taken.”

The Highway Patrol has 607 troopers and 208 are black. The work environment at Highway Patrol remains racially charged, Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson said a news conference last week to discuss the EEOC’s findings.

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, issued a statement Thursday in which he also urged Simpson to freeze hiring and promotions at the patrol “until they can resolve the issues in the complaint.” Flaggs is chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Department of Public Safety’s budget.

DPS spokesman Jon Kalahar said promotions have continued and Simpson and Gov. Haley Barbour say they want to get more details from the EEOC report before making any decisions.

Sgt. James Walker, president of the Central State Trooper’s Coalition, referred questions to the group’s attorney. The attorney did not respond to a message left through Walker.

The coalition sent a letter to Simpson, Barbour and other elected officials in October. The letter cited instances of alleged discrimination. Simpson then appointed a three-member panel to investigate and the NAACP filed a complaint with the EEOC in January.