Fired police chief Bingham sues West Point

May 20, 2010 10:04:00 AM

Jason Browne - jbrowne@cdispatch.com

 

WEST POINT -- Former West Point Police Chief Steve Bingham has filed a lawsuit against the city of West Point and four members of the Board of Selectmen alleging wrongful discharge, defamation and infliction of emotional distress on the basis of race. 

 

The suit, filed May 5 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, names Ward 1 Selectman Rod Bobo, Ward 2 Selectman Homer Cannon, Ward 3 Selectman Charles Collins and Ward 5 Selectman Jasper Pittman as defendants along with the city. Bingham accuses the selectmen of firing him Aug. 11 due to his race and their desire to replace him with a black candidate. 

 

Bingham goes on to accuse the selectmen of firing other white city employees for similar reasons. 

 

Pittman, the only defendant reached by phone Wednesday, pointed out the majority-black city board fired four black public works employees prior to firing Bingham and has since hired two white employees to high-ranking jobs at the city electric department. 

 

"We fired four blacks before we fired Bingham, so how racist are we?" said Pittman. 

 

The lawsuit also alleges the selectmen were motivated to fire Bingham "in part by (Bingham''s) resistance to the efforts by some of the defendants (to) continue in a course of illegal activity with impunity because of their status as selectmen. (Bingham) reported that illegal activity and attempted to end the illegal activity by using the power of his position as chief of police." 

 

The complaint does not specify the alleged illegal activity, and Pittman said he has no idea what the accusation is regarding. 

 

The lawsuit goes on to accuse the selectmen of defaming Bingham to third parties, claiming he was incompetent, had falsified records and reported false crime statistics in an effort to maintain his position. 

 

After Bingham''s dismissal, he claims, the selectmen were contacted by the city of Booneville about the possibility of hiring Bingham, but the selectmen told a Booneville representative Bingham was a convicted felon in addition to the prior allegations. 

 

Bingham filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received a letter from the EEOC April 13 granting him "the right to institute a civil action." He is being represented in the suit by Robert Sanders of Young Williams P.A. in Jackson. 

 

The suit claims that, as a result of his firing, Bingham has "suffered actionable emotional distress, loss of income, loss of other benefits associated with his former employment and other damages by reason of this illegal conduct by the city of West Point." 

 

It goes on to claim the defamation maliciously carried out by the selectmen exposed Bingham to "public hatred, contempt, or ridicule and degraded him in society, and lessened Bingham in public esteem and lowered public confidence in him in West Point." 

 

The suit demands compensatory damages, punitive damages, legal fees and an award of back pay along with the value of lost benefits including medical insurance and retirement benefits to be awarded by a jury. 

 

Pittman, who has received a summons regarding the suit, maintains the allegations are false and race played no role in Bingham''s firing. Furthermore, he said, an unspecified contingent in West Point is funding Bingham''s suit. 

 

"There are certain people in the community who are instigating this lawsuit. They''re financially instigating it," said Pittman. "People need jobs around here. We need to quit trying to instigate and move forward and bind this city together." 

 

Mayor Scott Ross deferred comment to City Attorney Orlando Richmond. Messages left for Richmond were not immediately returned.