West Point Mayor Critical of Collins After Lawsuit Settlement

WEST POINT, Miss. (WCBI) — Three current and one former West Point police officers have settled a race discrimination and retaliation lawsuit with the city. And the settlement has prompted harch words from Mayor Scott Ross about the role a current city selectman may have played in forcing the city to the settlement table.

The settlement came Monday as a jury was about to be seated in their federal court lawsuit, which was filed in November 2010. No settlement details were released.

Former Capt. Romelle Matthews and officer Jessie Anderson claimed they were fired or demoted because they were black officers who supported white police chief Steve Bingham before and after he was fired by the city’s new board of Selectmen in August 2009.

The four black selectmen voted to fire Bingham and the white selectman voted to keep him. White officers Tim Campbell and Jeremy Dubois claimed they were not promoted because they opposed race-based arrest policies supported by the black selectmen.

The city denied all the allegations.

But comments made by Tupelo attorney Jim Waide, who represented the officers, prompted sharp words from Mayor Scott Ross. The text of his statement follows below:

Because of a confidentiality agreement, I had not intended to comment publicly on the settlement by the City of West Point with one former and three current police officers. However, recent comments by their attorney, Jim Waide, demand a response.

The terms of the settlement make clear that the City does not admit any liability in the case, and in fact I believed until recently that the City had a clearly defensible position with a good likelihood of winning. The notion that two African-American officers and two white officers were all discriminated against on the basis of race by the same Board defies logic. Former Chief Bingham’s termination appears to serve as a basis for many of the allegations raised by the officers; notably absent from any discussion of these issues, however, is any consideration of public information regarding Mr. Bingham’s law enforcement employment after he left the City of West Point and how that employment came to an end.

Specifically regarding the three officers who remained employed, I can state with certainty that neither the Board nor the Mayor directed the internal structure, staffing, or specific duties of any officer, and that all three have continued to work for the City with no reduction in salary.

The City’s attorneys worked hard to be in a position to provide these facts to a jury. However, one Selectman, Charles Collins, refused to cooperate with the City’s attorneys and made it clear that he would not attend the trial and would not even comply with a subpoena to appear and provide testimony. This hampered the preparation and the defense in a way that likely could not be remedied. Potentially, this could have resulted in a sizable judgment against the City. I thus agree with the fact of the settlement, believing it to be in the City’s best interest.

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