Troopers reinstated

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 10, 2012

Troopers who sued return to jobs

By Billy Davis
Mississippi state troopers who were punished last fall for allegedly cheating on a promotions test have been reinstated to their previous posts and salaries.

Seven troopers, including three from Panola County, sued the state’s Department of Public Safety over their punishment.

The troopers claimed they were punished to refute a racial discrimination investigation being conducted by the United States Justice Department. Six of the seven troopers are white.
State troopers Tim Douglas, Shane Phelps and Bryan Sullivan, all from Panola County, are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

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The troopers also claimed they did not cheat — they used a bank of previous test questions, a practice that was allowed by the Mississippi Highway Patrol since at least 1997.

The promotions exam was scheduled for August 11, 2011 and the troopers were disciplined a month later.  
The Clarion-Ledger broke the news Thursday that the seven troopers and the Department of Public Safety had reached a settlement. The state agency oversees the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
The allegations of a cheating scandal originally involved 14 troopers when the story was first reported last year.

Four troopers chose to retire and 10 more who remained in uniform were suspended without pay and demoted. Nine of the 10 troopers appealed their suspensions while seven of the remaining nine filed suit, claiming a violation of their civil rights in a complaint filed in February by attorney Dennis Horn of Madison.

Horn told The Clarion-Ledger that his clients alleged Col. Donnell Berry, commander of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, admitted the white troopers were being disciplined to prove the law enforcement agency did not discriminate against black troopers.

According to the The Clarion-Ledger, black state troopers alleged in 2009 there was racial discrimination and unfair treatment in the MHP. The NAACP filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of the troopers, then the EEOC later involved the Department of Justice when it found credible evidence of discrimination.

According to Horn’s civil complaint, the discipline meted out against Douglas and the other troopers was done “as a defense to the pending charge of racial discrimination by African American troopers.”
The attorney’s complaint also alleged that Donnell and the state agency “knew well that some of the Plaintiffs had approximately 1,500 questions in a quiz file or study bank.”

Reviewing and circulating the true-or-false questions and multiple-choice questions was “normal practice” at the highway patrol, where there is no policy in place prohibiting them, Horn also wrote on behalf of his clients.