By Brian Livingston
During a Thursday afternoon press conference at City Hall, Mayor Percy Bland said an investigation has been launched into an allegation by a police officer that Meridian Police Department Chief James Lee threatened his job and humiliated him in front of officers in a staff meeting.
Following the complaint filed by Sgt. J.C. Lewis, Meridian Equal Opportunity Officer Stacey Thompson responded in a letter that "After investigation of your submitted complaint concerning an offensive work environment by Chief of Police, James Lee, I find that there is enough evidence presented to conclude your work environment has been made offensive, intimidating, and threatening by Chief James Lee."
"As many of you know, certain allegations have been made regarding the chief of police," Bland said. "Let me assure you that I take such matters very seriously. I have begun the process of reviewing the findings of the Equal Opportunity Officer and consulting with Human Resources and the city attorney regarding this matter. After the review is complete, I will take the necessary steps to discipline the chief, if warranted," Bland said.
In the letter that Lewis sent to Thompson, Lewis alleges that Lee cursed him and other officers during a staff meeting.
Lewis' complaint was also filed with the Meridian Civil Service Commission Office.
On Wednesday, Meridian City Council President George Thomas questioned why Bland had not brought the issue to the council's attention or addressed questions residents had about the allegations.
"All personnel matters are confidential and the specifics of any such discipline should not be discussed publicly," Bland said Thursday.
Bland did, however, give a little insight into the incident.
According to Bland, Lewis' allegations stem from an incident that occurred during the Christmas, New Year's Day holiday period at the end of December 2013. Bland said he had given Lee orders to get as many officers on the streets, in the malls, and patrolling neighborhoods so that residents and those traveling from out of town to Meridian would feel safe.
On one particular night, a shift was markedly short of manpower but no actions by the shift commanders were taken to alleviate the problem, Bland said.
The meeting in question was called to address that issue.
"If there was a miscommunication, then that starts with me," Bland said. "I was the one who ordered the chief to put all these officers on the streets. I was the one who wanted the city to be safe. But we didn't have the city protected during that shift."
In his complaint, Lewis states that during the staff meeting on Dec. 30, 2013, Lee told those present he would "get rid of anyone who wouldn't do as he said."
Furthermore, the complaint alleges that Lee threatened to put Lewis on desk duty when he asked about a scheduling change.
At the press conference, Bland also addressed the firing of a couple of long-serving, high-profile officers and the resignations of others who have left for various reasons. Bland said rumors have circulated in the community that Lee has fired 50 officers, which Bland said is not true.
Bland said Lee hasn't fired any officers, but did recommend since taking over the position in July 2013 that Bland fire five officers.
"He can't hire, fire or suspend anyone without my approval," Bland said. "All those other officers people are saying were fired, quit. They resigned, in part because they didn't want to work eight hour shifts which again was my decision, not his. So he has taken hits for things he has no control over."
Bland said he is taking the allegations seriously and that he and Meridian CAO Mike McGrevey will review the issue and make a determination as to whether or not any disciplinary action against Lee is warranted.
"I will do it in such a manner that our police department functions effectively and productively, particularly during this time of increased crime suppression," Bland said.
By Brian Livingston
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