Racially torn Jasper settles discrimination case with former police chief

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The racially divided East Texas timber town of Jasper on Thursday agreed to pay its former police chief, the first African-American to hold the post, $800,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in the wake of his June 2012 dismissal.

Frank Calvert, the town’s outside counsel, confirmed that the City Council has agreed to settle the action with former Police Chief Rodney Pearson. Also named as defendants were Jasper Mayor Mike Lout, the town’s human resources director, Joe Whitener, and two individuals.

The city will pay Pearson $350,000 on behalf of itself, Lout and Whitener. An additional $450,000 will be paid by the Texas Municipal League‘s Intergovernmental Risk Pool.

Jasper, population 7,600, gained international notoriety in June 1998 when three white men murdered resident James Byrd Jr. by dragging him behind a pickup.

Pearson, a former Jasper fire chief and Texas Department of Public Safety officer, was appointed police chief in 2011 by a black-majority City Council. Months later, controversy surrounding the appointment led to a successful recall of three African-American council members.

Blacks responded with an unsuccessful effort to recall Lout.

In June 2012, City Council voted 4-1 to terminate Pearson.

“The pain, embarrassment and hardship the Pearson family endured can never be compensated fully in monetary terms,” said Pearson attorney Cade Bernsen, “but the family is hopeful that yet another light is shown bright upon Jasper.”

SOURCE: Houston Chronicle

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