Press Release from attorney Cade Bernsen:
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.