A Trip Down Lawsuit Lane | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

A Trip Down Lawsuit Lane

Mayor Tony Yarber, Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason and Jackson Police Department Chief Lee Vance face lawsuits ranging from sexual harassment to sexual discrimination from former and current women employees.

Mayor Tony Yarber, Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason and Jackson Police Department Chief Lee Vance face lawsuits ranging from sexual harassment to sexual discrimination from former and current women employees. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

— The news that Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith was arrested for alleged domestic violence, stalking and robbery of a former girlfriend attracted recent headlines. But Mayor Tony Yarber, Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason and Jackson Police Department Chief Lee Vance also face allegations ranging from sexual harassment to sexual discrimination. Here are what the women allege in court documents.

Tony Yarber

Bracey v. Yarber

Kimberly Bracey filed a lawsuit against Mayor Tony Yarber on Aug. 25, 2016, alleging sex discrimination, sexual harassment, a sexually hostile workplace, and unlawful retaliation, the complaint states. Bracey was a former executive assistant to Yarber, and said they had repeated sexual relations.

In the complaint, Bracey alleges that Yarber, who is married, was involved in other sexual relationships at the time, including with Jackson City Attorney Monica Joiner. During the time of her sexual involvement with the mayor, Bracey said was separated from her husband, Santore Bracey.

The complaint says Bracey and her husband reconciled, and she ended the relationship between her and Yarber. The former assistant states that Yarber tried to coerce her into engaging in more sexual activity, threatening to fire her if she refused.

In Bracey's Motion to Compel, filed April 13, 2017, she asks Yarber to answer a set of interrogatories (questions). Her motion asks to "identify all sexual harassment claims against any current or past employers in regards to Defendant Tony Yarber for the last ten years." She also wants Yarber to "detail each and every fact that supports ... (Yarber's) legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating Plaintiff."

Yarber sent out a statement on April 20, 2017, in response to Bracey's Motion to Compel, saying he had in no way violated her rights as she alleged, and that the timing of her latest motion was political.

The most recent court filing was May 18, 2017, with a Notice of Service of Response to Second Interrogatories by Yarber.

Coleman v. Yarber

Stephanie L. Coleman filed charges against the mayor on Feb. 2, 2017, alleging sex discrimination, sexual harassment, a sexually hostile workplace, and then being unlawfully retaliated against for refusing to participate in illegal activities and for refusing to make false public statements.

Yarber appointed Coleman as the City of Jackson's equal opportunity business manager in January 2015. Coleman says in the complaint that her immediate supervisor, Jason Goree, and department head, Eric Jefferson, answered directly to Yarber. Goree previously was the director of economic development. Jefferson is the director of the Department of Planning.

Coleman accuses Goree of calling her into his office, sexually harassing her, and then demanding that she perform sexual favors in return for continued employment.

The plaintiff noticed that city contracts involved many of Yarber's campaign contributors, resulting in a conflict of interest, she claimed. After Coleman voiced her disapproval to the process of awarding city contracts, Yarber advised her that "everyone is sick and tired of you raising questions and creating issues," the complaint alleges.

Yarber then accused Coleman of leaking information about illegal contract steering to the media and others, she claims.

The last document in the case file is dated May 30, 2017, with an Amended Answer to Complaint, and Affirmative Defenses by City of Jackson. Yarber denies all claims listed in the complaint.

City of Jackson

Williams v. City of Jackson, Mississippi

Amanda Williams filed a lawsuit against the City of Jackson on May 16, 2016. In the amended complaint, Williams said the City of Jackson "intentionally, maliciously, and with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights ... terminated Plaintiff's employment with the City of Jackson, Mississippi because of Plaintiff's pregnancy and pregnancy-related medical conditions. ..."

Williams was the City's public information officer. She was hired May 2014, and informed the City and Jackie Anderson-Woods, chief of staff to the mayor, that she was pregnant in June 2014. Anderson-Woods was Williams' direct supervisor.

The complaint says Williams notified Anderson-Woods and the City of her high-risk pregnancy and the medical conditions it entailed. Williams had to take leaves of absence under her physician's orders, which the complaint says she provided.

In November 2014, Williams went on maternity leave to give birth and recuperate from pregnancy. She notified the City, Anderson-Woods, and the Department of Personnel Management, which she says authorized the request prior to her leave.

Following her pregnancy, Williams still faced medical issues, the complaint says. Her physician sent a letter to the City stating that Williams' final postpartum, a form of depression after pregnancy, visit was scheduled for Jan. 26, 2015. Her physician issued a formal release for her to return to work on Feb. 2, 2015.

While on maternity leave, the City claims that Williams was assigned to Beatrice Slaughter, her new supervisor. Williams hand-delivered the formal release to Slaughter the day after her postpartum visit, the complaint says. That same day Williams received a termination letter.

The last document in the court file is dated May 4, 2017. Jackson City Council passed an order May 16 to authorize payment of a settlement. A City Hall source confirmed the City will pay Williams $25,000 and is authorizing a settlement without admitting wrongdoing.

Sheriff Victor Mason

Jones v. Mason

Belendia Jones filed a complaint against Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason on Feb. 21, 2017, alleging sexual discrimination, a sexually hostile work environment, sexual harassment and intentional emotional harm.

Jones served as a part-time reserve deputy for the Hinds County Sheriff's Department from 2013 until summer 2015, and also worked in the private sector. Jones also volunteered for Mason's campaign for sheriff. Hinds County Sheriff Tyrone Lewis allegedly relieved Jones of her position once he discovered she supported Mason.

Mason and Jones have known each other for years, and she considered Mason a friend of the family, her complaint says. Jones' father was Mason's barber. Mason was aware of Jones' aspirations to become a certified law enforcement officer and promised to hire her, make her a sergeant and have the HCSD send her to police academy if he became sheriff, she alleges.

Throughout the complaint, Jones provides a series of conversations, which appear to be texts, between her and Mason over the course of a year or so. The dialogue includes sexual references and vulgar language.

The alleged texts from Mason show him texting Jones, asking her questions posed as Mrs. Wilson, a fictional character, the complaint says. Mason asks Jones, "Is that before or after you f* me?" In many of the alleged texts, Jones responds with "No," or attempts to ignore the question.

However, the complaint says that on March 8, 2016, Mason told her to "give me some," via text, and Jones responded, "I'll think about it." The complaint alleged that the sheriff demanded sexual favors from Jones, while she served as sergeant, who allegedly had no intentions of fulfilling these acts. Mason then demoted Jones, transferred her to another establishment and cut her pay over a period of time.

The last court document to date was April 17, 2017, with Victor Mason's Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint. Mason denies all allegations listed in the complaint.

Barnes/Matory v. Mason

Cheryl Matory and Tomeca Barnes filed a lawsuit against Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason on Dec. 28, 2016, alleging a sexually hostile work environment, sex discrimination and race discrimination.

In 2015, Matory was a JPD corporal and crime-scene investigator, and Mason allegedly asked her to recruit employees to work for him if he became sheriff. Mason allegedly recommended Matory to recruit Barnes, who had more than 20 years of experience with the Biloxi Police Department. Barnes is also a minister and in the military.

The complaint states that Mason promised Matory that, if elected sheriff, he would hire her as his undersheriff, and she would be head supervisor of the Internal Affairs Division. The lawsuit shows alleged dialogue, referred to as text messages, between Matory and Mason and later Mason and Barnes. Mason allegedly texted Matory inquiring about the location of Barnes on numerous occasions, once saying, "she (Barnes) and I need to be at the Hilton," where Matory works part-time. Some of the dialogue listed in the complaint is vulgar and includes sexual references.

On Sept. 9, 2015, Mason allegedly texted Matory: "Will she (Barnes) give me some?" Matory then allegedly responded that she doesn't know. Mason replied, "If she doesn't then you won't get hired...." After receiving Barnes' phone number, Mason and Barnes exchanged text messages.

After Mason swore in as sheriff, Matory and Barnes got the positions Mason promised. Matory allegedly refused to arrange a sexual relationship between Mason and Barnes.

Mason then allegedly demoted Matory and Barnes, and Matory was later fired. The last court document to date was May 19, 2017. The case was reassigned from Chief District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. to District Judge Tom S. Lee. Mason denies all allegations in the complaint.

Attorney Lisa Ross confirmed with the Jackson Free Press that she will "use everything available" including actual text messages. Ross is representing Belendia Jones, Cheryl Matory, and Tomeca Barnes.

JPD Chief Lee Vance

Wallace v. Vance

Tina Wallace filed a lawsuit on April 14, 2017, against JPD Chief Lee Vance, alleging sex and race discrimination and retaliation. Wallace served as JPD deputy chief of patrol operations. The complaint is lengthy and describes numerous scenarios where Wallace would allegedly report wrongdoings and violations by other officers and commanders to Vance. Wallace alleges that Vance would ignore these reports.

The reports listed in the complaint include, but are not limited to: Precinct Three officers having alcohol on the premises; members of the command staff and other officers viewing sexually inappropriate photos of officers; distributing of sexual videos among staff; and officers working other jobs while on the clock. Wallace states that after she broke the code of silence that JPD officers were expected to follow, one of her male colleagues suggested that she "stay away" and allow them to do their jobs.

Vance allegedly demoted Wallace after receiving an anonymous complaint that she was receiving payment for assignments that she did not work. Vance then initiated further investigation and a polygraph examination on Wallace, the complaint says. Wallace states that Vance did not launch investigations or polygraph examinations for other allegations against officers and staff. The last court filing was May 19, 2017, an Answer to Complaint by Vance. Vance denies all allegations listed in the complaint.

Read more on lawsuits against public officials at jacksonfreepress.com/citylawsuits. See PDFs of documents quoted in this story at that link.


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