The first black police chief in Jasper, Texas -- the East Texas hamlet best known for the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. -- didn't last long. In fact, according to the federal lawsuit he just filed against city officials, and the city itself, he was forced out of his job by a not-very-sophisticated syndicate of racists, led by the mayor, who also owns the city's local news radio station.
According to Rodney Pearson's suit, Mayor Mike Lout and his girlfriend, Debbie Foster, were key players in a conspiracy to post Pearson's private information (such as his Social Security number) online and get a woman named Beverly Rauscher to accuse Pearson of groping her. They also allegedly facilitated the formation of a "clandestine group of all white citizens...to discredit the Chief and the black City Councilmen that hired him." (Why is it that clandestine groups are always up to no good? Why are there never clandestine group bakes sales?)
The group, called the League of Concerned Citizens, posted racist epithets on KJAS's Web site and Facebook page, and initiated a petition drive to recall the black councilmen. (The Bernsen Law Firm, representing Pearson, hired a handwriting expert, who claimed that not only were many of the signatures forged, they were forged with the same freaking pen).
According to the suit, Lout and his co-defendants were motivated by the fact that Lout's pick (a Caucasian gentleman) wasn't approved for the chief's position. The fact that Pearson was a state trooper for 20 years, racked up more than 3,000 hours of law enforcement courses and training, and was the first candidate in the town's history who had a college degree, didn't matter to Lout, according to the suit.
Furthermore, per the suit:
[Pearson] has repeatedly asked for the reasons for his termination. Mayor Lout [and council members] have refused to provide this information. Their refusal is intentional and malicious and denies Plaintiff the rights afforded by state law, the Constitution of Texas [and the Consitution of the] United States. If Defendant Lout and City Councuil truly felt they had a legitimate reason to terminate Plaintiff, they would [have] unequivocally stated the reasons. They cannot and will not state orally or in writing the alleged reasons for his termination because, other than their opposition to the idea of a black man having been appointed the Chief of Police of Jasper, there are no legitimate reasons....
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And that groping allegation? It didn't go anywhere. Rauscher filed her complaint last December with the Jasper County Sheriff's Office, who then kicked it over to the Texas Rangers, since the allegations concerned a peace officer. No charges were ever filed. Shortly after filing her complaint, Rauscher moved to San Diego. We left a message for her and hope to hear back.
Lout told us that he preferred for the matter to be resolved in an actual court, as opposed to the court of public opinion, which is pretty funny to hear from a newsman. We had to ask if he was speaking as mayor or as station owner and manager of KJAS. He told us he was speaking as both. He also denied that any of Pearson's private information was ever published on his station's sites.
This one is a doozy, and we'll be following it for sure.