Thomspon hearing comes to a close

Published 7:00 am Saturday, April 28, 2018

The second day of former Picayune Head Basketball Coach Kelton Thompson’s public hearing to dispute his termination from District employment ended with Thompson taking the stand.

The day’s testimony started with Betty Jo Peterson, the District’s director of bus routing at the time of Thompson’s employment. Her story essentially recapped the testimony given during the first day of the hearing, held on March 7.

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That testimony was that on Feb. 7 of this year, Thompson was randomly selected for a drug test because he holds a Commercial Driver’s License, allowing him to drive a school bus when transporting students to basketball games.

Testimony also included allegations that he should not have been tested because the District’s lack of a pre-employment drug test would have left him off the list for selection for a random test. 

Peterson could not say why Thompson did not undergo a pre employment drug screen, but when Assistant Superintendent Brent Harrell took the stand, he said that while the policy is that all employees could be tested, only classified personnel were regularly tested prior to employment.  The District considers teachers, which include coaches, certified employees because they are licensed. Superintendent Dean Shaw said the oversight in pre-employment drug testing will be discussed with the Board of Trustees soon during his testimony.

But the basis of Thompson’s case, which was primarily presented by his defense lawyer, Pat Zachary, is that the actual testing was not conducted as per Department of Transportation regulations. One flaw noted was that the testing company, DCS and Associates LLC, which is owned by Rodney Dyess, who is also a member of the Pearl River County School Board of Trustees, destroyed the first sample given during the drug test because it did not meet the temperature requirements. Previous testimony stated that the first sample was discarded because Thompson flushed the toilet and immediately washed his hands after providing the sample, both actions were violations of testing protocol. The first sample should have been saved and sent with a second sample, previous testimony states. However, Thompson did not provide a second sample because he disagreed with having to “expose himself” in front of another person, as required by the DOT regulations when a first sample was not provided properly.

As a result, Thompson said he decided to leave the testing area with less than an hour left in the required three-hour time frame to provide a sample, leading to the test being considered failed. He said during testimony that he was unaware that had he stayed the full three hours, the test would not have been considered a failure.

Another contention in the test was that Thompson asked for some smokeless tobacco to calm his nerves so he could provide a sample. When he was told he could not leave to get the tobacco, he called his assistant coach and asked him to bring his bag, which contained the can of tobacco. When the assistant coach arrived, Thompson asked him to put the bag in a room just down the hall. A short time later Thompson left the view of the testers and went to get his tobacco from the bag. Thompson said during his testimony that he was gone for only seconds and that there was an eyewitness in the room, David Matthew Lee, the District’s fixed asset manager.

The District’s counsel, Elizabeth Maron and Jim Keith would later call Lee to the stand. During Lee’s testimony, he said he did recall the assistant coach bringing the bag, but did not recall seeing Thompson get anything from the bag.

During the end of the hearing a piece of Thomspon’s past was disclosed voluntarily. When asked by Moran why, as Thompson left the testing area, he made the comment that he had lost it all and got it back, so he could do it again.

His response was that he had been arrested in 2013 for DUI and possession of marijuana, and as a result lost a prior coaching position. Upon cross-examination by Zachary, Thompson said those charges were later dropped and expunged from his record. 

Thompson testified at the end of the day, that his ultimate goal in holding the public hearings is to continue coaching at Picayune. 

The next steps in the case will involve the testimony being compiled into a transcript and provided to Nathaniel Armstead within 30 days. Armstead presided over both days of the hearing. Armstead will then send the report to the Picayune School District’s Board of Trustees, and the Board will have 30 days from that date to review the transcript and records from the hearing and set a date for a meeting where the Board will announce its decision whether to uphold Thompson’s termination or not.