Bland Suspends Police Chief

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Meridian, Miss. Almost two months after Meridian's equal opportunity officer issued a finding that Meridian Police Chief James Lee had created a hostile workplace for an officer, Mayor Percy Bland announced sanctions for the chief.

Lee has been suspended, without pay, for the next five days over an incident that was reported Dec. 31, 2013, in connection with a police leadership meeting. Sgt. J.C. Lewis alleged Lee cursed and threatened officers.

Chief Lee could have been fired over this issue but Mayor Bland only suspended him because he says there was enough blame to go around in this particular incident.

A week after stepping in front of the microphone to talk about this incident with the chief behind him, Bland appeared alone Monday.

Though Lee is apparently the only member of the police department who will receive a suspension in this case, Bland says the entire supervisory staff for the department will undergo training on professionalism, communication and appropriate workplace behavior.

"They have probably communicated with each other in past practices in a way that we have now got to set a new tone, a new way of doing things," said Bland. "And that's what this administration is going to do."

The mayor says the incident that led to the ruling was during a meeting just before the new year, and the chief was addressing serious accountability gaps with key police leadership. Apparently that meeting got heated, and the chief cursed and threatened Sgt. Lewis.

Mayor Bland wouldn't directly answer when asked if he believed the chief would be a changed man on his return to work. But he says he's made it clear what he expects from Lee.

"Chief is a soldier. This is a decision that the mayor has to make, and chief understands when he returns he needs to lead," said Bland. "He needs to be the chief."

Meanwhile, the mayor says if another incident like this one comes up with the chief, it will be addressed at that time.

Bland went on to insist that the numbers show crime is actually down over the last several months in the city and that he believes the chief's law enforcement methods are working.

The Meridian City Council is meeting Tuesday at 9 a.m. Some members have indicated this issue could come up during that meeting.