Former Chief of Police Rodney Pearson is suing the City of Jasper, citing “conspiracy of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.” The lawsuit includes civil action against Mayor James M. Tout, Rayburn Broadcasting, Debbie Foster and Joe Whitener.
Foster is the mayor’s longtime girlfriend and an employee of his radio station, and Whitener is personnel director for the city of Jasper.
Cade Bernsen, Pearson’s attorney, said in a recent release that “Mayor Mike Lout used his influence and his radio station (KJAS) in an unrelenting pursuit to get Rodney Pearson out of office, (along with) the City Council members who originally voted him in. Rodney Pearson endured months of harassment, slander and racial discrimination only to be unfairly terminated and run out of town.”
Attorneys for Pearson, in the lawsuit filed Oct. 16 in federal court, allege the mayor of Jasper, city representatives and others conspired to not only terminate Pearson’s employment as chief of police but also destroy his reputation through the local radio station the mayor owns, social media sites and other media outlets.
The suit alleges Jasper city leaders subjected Pearson to ongoing, purposeful discrimination and unlawful employment practices, including the illegal public release of Pearson’s personnel file and background check. Pearson accuses co-conspirators of the mayor of slandering him with racial slurs on the radio station’s Facebook page and orchestrating false allegations of assault against him. The lawsuit says city leaders also knowingly submitted forged signatures on recall petitions to remove black council members, creating a white majority that fired Pearson without cause. This was the first recall in the history of Jasper. According to Bernsen, Mayor Lout unlawfully blocked a City Council investigation concerning the recall illegalities.
Pearson was the first officer to discover James Byrd Jr.’s body after his racially motivated dragging death in 1998. Pearson served as a Texas State Trooper for 20 years and was promoted numerous times with multiple commendations. In 2005, Pearson was awarded his Master Peace Officers certificate. Until February 2011, Pearson served as chief of the Jasper Volunteer Fire Department.
The Examiner attempted to contact Mayor Tout at the Jasper City Hall and Rayburn Broadcasting, but Tout was unavailable for comment.