Black ex-troopers say Miss. Highway Patrol biased - - Jackson, MS

Black ex-troopers say Miss. Highway Patrol biased

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By Bert Case - bio | email

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Two men fired as state troopers 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 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.

Department of Public Safety spokesperson Jon Kalahar attended the ex-troopers' news conference, but the Highway Patrol had no immediate response to their statements.

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 North Mississippi's DeSoto County, just south of Memphis, Tennessee. 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 had a job in Memphis.

He said he met with Commissioner of Public Safety Steve Simpson, who is Berthay's boss, 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 patrol-issued 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 Mississippi 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 Governor Haley Barbour in 2005 complaining that black troopers were treated unfairly.

Merrill said was he was told to transfer to Philadelphia, Mississippi, 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.

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