Meridian Star

Local News

May 7, 2014

Mayor fires police chief

MERIDIAN —     Meridian's chief of police was fired on Tuesday following months of controversy, including a sexual harassment lawsuit from a former police officer.

    At a press conference at City Hall, Mayor Percy Bland read a statement, saying that Chief of Police James Lee had been let go.

    "On Monday I requested the resignation of James Lee as police chief. As of this morning I have not received his letter, therefore I have no choice except to terminate James Lee effective immediately," Bland said.

    Also effective on Tuesday is the appointment of Assistant Chief of Police Buck Roberts as acting police chief, Bland said.

    "Although Lee has made good improvements to our police department, other issues involving him have become a distraction which interferes with our goal of developing an outstanding, effective, efficient and professional community police department," Bland said.

    Lee has been the center of discussion for months since taking office as chief in July, 2013 as part of Bland's administration. Over the following months, a couple of high-profile officers were fired. As of Nov. 1, 2013, according to information from Bland's office, 42 officers had left the police department so far that year, but 15 of those left prior to Bland's administration. Some of those officers retired, while others found jobs elsewhere

    Two officers, one former and one currently still with the police department, have filed EEOC complaints about Lee. One accuses the former chief of verbally harassing him by making unwanted sexual remarks. Another officer alleges that Lee had used vulgar language to him in front of other supervisors.

    Asked about the reason behind the firing, Bland said the bottom line was that there was a loss of confidence in Lee's ability to lead the department.

    "We communicated and felt at this time that was the best decision to make," Bland said. "We look forward to very soon in the near future having another police chief confirmed."

    Bland said he did not make this decision based on the EEOC complaints.

    "With that and with the older civil service cases coming up real soon," Bland said, "we feel confident that the information, the evidence that will be presented in those cases will speak for themselves to make a decision on those personnel cases based on violations that were broken with regards to our procedures and policies here in our city. We feel confident that the process for those cases will play out. It had nothing to do with that at all."

    Asked if Lee would be asked to participate in future Civil Service hearings as they are brought up, Bland said he did not think that would be necessary but Michael Goggans, city attorney, spoke up and said he would like for Lee to appear in the hearings.

    When asked if he would be looking outside of the Meridian Police Department or inside for Lee's replacement, Bland said he wants the new chief to be a person who already has a strong relationship with the police department and the community.

    "I think it will be a person who has been in a position of being a chief in a city our size," Bland said. "A person, who I feel, can come in and from day one have the respect and confidence of the men and also get back to doing what needs to be done — fighting crime and doing an effective job of community policing."

    Bland said he hopes to have a candidate to present to the council at its next meeting.

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