NAACP: Miss. black troopers target of retaliation

Published 1:11 pm Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson says some black troopers have been fired and others reassigned in retaliation for filing a federal complaint against the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.

The NAACP filed a complaint on behalf of the state’s 200 black troopers earlier this year with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In July, the EEOC said it found evidence of discrimination and forwarded those findings to the U.S. Justice Department.

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Johnson said Monday a retaliation complaint was filed last week with the EEOC.

“We have now reports of three officers who have been terminated. We have reports of officers being reassigned away from their home bases. Some officers have to drive three hours just to report in to work, and that results in an economic hardship,” Johnson said.

During a news conference in Jackson, Johnson declined to provide further details or to identify the officers.

Department of Public Safety Commission Steve Simpson said he’s still waiting for troopers who are making the claims to come forward. Simpson said in a statement that his agency “continues to be asked to defend itself against discrimination charges from the Mississippi NAACP.”

Johnson said the NAACP filed the complaint on behalf of the black troopers to protect the law officers from retaliation. After a monthslong investigation, the EEOC said it determined that the patrol had discriminated against blacks in regard to assignment, demotions, discharges, discipline, harassment and promotions.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the EEOC findings.

Simpson said officials with the Justice Department plan to interview him and other patrol employees in authority, which the EEOC never did.

The Highway Patrol has 540 troopers; 208 of them are black.

Johnson said Simpson and Col. Michael Berthay, head of the Highway Patrol, began a “barrage of retaliatory acts” after the EEOC determined discrimination existed at the patrol. Johnson said vacant positions were filled without procedural announcements and unsubstantiated investigations were launched through the internal affairs division.

“The overall atmosphere and culture of the agency has become a very negative work environment,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he’s awaiting the action of the Justice Department, which could sue the state or could issue a right to sue letter to the NAACP.

The EEOC had asked the state to begin settlement talks with the troopers, but Simpson said he wanted more information about the federal agency’s findings.

Simpson said he had several concerns about the EEOC’s investigation and has asked the agency to reconsider its determination. He has said his agency wasn’t provided with names, positions or other relevant information about alleged discriminatory practices.

The Highway Patrol was forced to racially integrate after a lawsuit by black law enforcement officers in the 1970s, and the patrol remained under a federal consent decree until early this decade. The decree was designed to eliminate discriminatory practices in hiring, firing and promotions.

“Nearly 40 years ago, African Americans sued to have the right to be highway patrolmen and it is a shame that 40 years later they have to sue to be treated as equals,” Johnson said Monday.