Former Cop Talks Racism in Jasper, Texas

The first black police chief of a town made infamous by a 1998 hate crime says he was fired over race.

Rodney Pearson (Courtesy of Rodney Pearson)
Rodney Pearson (Courtesy of Rodney Pearson)

(The Root) — The head of the Texas NAACP described the unceremonious firing of Jasper’s first black police chief as nothing short of a virtual lynching, and praised the former law-enforcement officer’s decision in October to file suit against the city made famous by a 1998 hate crime — a suit that the city has not yet answered.

“The chief was lynched,” Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP in Austin, told The Root. “It was a horrible thing that occurred to him. He had no opportunity to vindicate himself. There is no way an objective person can look at this and conclude that the whole thing was not driven by race.”

Indeed, that is exactly what former Jasper Police Chief Rodney Pearson alleges in a federal lawsuit filed this fall in Beaumont against the city, Mayor Mike Lout and several municipal officials. The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, alleges that city officials conspired not only to terminate him on June 11 but also to destroy his reputation through a mayor-owned local radio station, social media sites and other media outlets.

“The courts have to make a clear statement that the American people will not tolerate this kind of thing,” Bledsoe said in response to a call from The Root about the suit, which he had not yet reviewed. “Chief Pearson deserved every opportunity to perform, and he did not get that, from what I have seen.”

Pearson’s firing, which occurred after 16 months on the job, touched off a firestorm of media controversy that flared for months (the interim police chief who replaced him abruptly resigned without notice on Nov. 19). The suit charges that city leaders subjected him to ongoing, purposeful discrimination and unlawful employment practices, including the illegal release of his personnel file and background check, his lawyer, Cade Bernsen, told The Root. The suit accuses co-conspirators of the mayor of slandering Pearson with racial slurs on the radio station’s Facebook page and orchestrating false allegations of assault against him.

Mayor Lout did not return several phone calls from The Root, which were placed to City Hall and his radio station, but he has denied the allegations, according to the Associated Press.

The slurs and accusations have made it difficult for Pearson to obtain a job, forcing him to leave law enforcement, he told The Root. The 46-year-old former police chief works at a security checkpoint at an oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas.