Meridian Star

October 30, 2012

NAACP files ethics charges

By Terri Ferguson Smith / tsmith@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Complaints to the Mississippi Ethics Commission about more than 60 elected and appointed officials in Meridian and Lauderdale County are not related to the Department of Justice's investigation and lawsuit alleging a school-to-prison pipeline, but the complaints stem from the same problem, according to local NAACP members.

    The local NAACP chapter filed ethics complaints against the officials on Thursday, according to John Harris, Meridian/Lauderdale County NAACP president.

    "We filed ethics charges regarding individuals we felt that had some type of dealings with our kids," Harris said. "These individuals should have been watching over our kids. We felt the ball was dropped."

    Those who had ethics complaints filed against them had direct and indirect involvement with what was going on with children in Meridian and Lauderdale County, Harris said.

    "We were in the process of doing the ethics charges prior to the DOJ filing their lawsuit," Harris said.

    The DOJ alleges that the constitutional rights of juveniles who get into trouble are being systematically violated by the Meridian Police Department, the Lauderdale County Youth Court and the Mississippi Department of Youth Services.

    The Mississippi Ethics Commission website explains how investigations work.

    "Before the Ethics Commission can conduct an investigation, someone must file a sworn complaint with the Commission alleging a violation of law by a public official or public employee. All complaints, investigations and investigative records are confidential until and unless the Commission votes to remove confidentiality." The website also explains what happens after an investigation is complete.

    "Once the investigation is complete, the Commission must confidentially send a copy of the complaint to the person against whom it was filed, the respondent. The Commission is not able to protect the identity of the person who filed the complaint."

    It further explains how an outcome may be reached.

    "The Commission may enforce the Ethics in Government Laws through hearings held before the Commission or an independent hearing officer, to determine whether a respondent violated the law and, if so, what penalty or penalties should be imposed, if any. Hearings in ethics cases are conducted according to the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure and the Mississippi Rules of Evidence. A violation must be proven to the Commission by clear and convincing evidence."

    For more information about how the Commission works, go to : www.ethics.state.ms.us.