Black Ex-troopers Say Miss. Highway Patrol Biased

Black Ex-troopers Say Miss. Highway Patrol Biased

Published March 23, 2010

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two state troopers fired last year said Monday they think the head of the Mississippi Highway Patrol has taken revenge on them and other blacks who complain about the way the patrol is run.

Michael McField, 33, of Horn Lake and Jerry Merrill, 39, of Laurel are appealing their terminations. Each had been a trooper nearly six years, starting in late 2003.

They held a news conference Monday in Jackson to say they believe the head of the Highway Patrol, Col. Michael Berthay, has discriminated against all black troopers and has promoted some white officers over blacks with more experience.

Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson, who is Berthay's boss, said he and other Highway Patrol supervisors reviewed the grievances of McField and Merrill, and a panel of the state Personnel Board reviewed the merits of the complaints.

"After full consideration by the appeals board, McField and Merril's appeals were dismissed and the agency's action to terminate was sustained," Simpson said in a written statement.

McField and Merrill are appealing the panel's decision to the entire Personnel Board, and said if they lose there, they'll appeal to state courts.

Simpson did not respond to the ex-troopers' allegations about racial discrimination by Berthay.

In February 2009, the NAACP filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Mississippi's 200 black troopers. In July, the EEOC said it found evidence of discrimination and forwarded those findings to the U.S. Justice Department.

McField and Merrill said they were part of the group involved in the EEOC complaint.

They said they spoke out publicly Monday because they want Mississippi citizens to know how they believe the Highway Patrol discriminates against its own black employees.

McField was a trooper in northern Mississippi's DeSoto County, just south of Memphis, Tenn. He said he was told in May 2009 that he was being transferred to Holmes County, in the central part of the state. McField said he was not given an explanation for the transfer but was told to relocate, at his own expense, within two weeks.

McField said he didn't want to move because his wife has a job in Memphis. He said he met with Simpson to complain about the transfer order.

McField said that soon after receiving the transfer order, he started an indefinite medical leave because he was under stress and was suffering migraines related to a 2008 wreck he had on the job. He said in August 2009, four white troopers came to his home and — in front of his small sons — confiscated all of his Highway Patrol guns and equipment except for his uniforms.

McField said he was fired on Oct. 31.

"Every day, my sons ask me, 'Daddy, are you getting your car back? Daddy, are you going to be a policeman again?' And I have to tell them, 'no,'" McField said Monday. "It's not because I didn't do my job. It's not because I didn't serve and protect the citizens of the state of Mississippi. It's all because of one individual who's made it his own personal vendetta to get rid of me or any other trooper who's standing up for what's right."

Merrill said he was a narcotics officer for the Laurel Police Department before becoming a Highway Patrol officer in December 2003. He said that in August 2005, he was accused of selling drugs, but was later cleared by an investigation.

Merrill said he sent a certified letter to Gov. Haley Barbour in 2005 complaining that black troopers were treated unfairly.

Merrill said was he was told to transfer to Philadelphia, Miss., from Laurel but did not move. He said he was fired Oct. 6, 2009.

Speaking of Berthay, Merrill said: "If you're not part of his team, you're an outcast."

The two ex-troopers said they have not found other jobs and would like to be rehired at the Highway Patrol if Berthay leaves.


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.


Written by <P>EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press Writer</P>


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