Sheriff Blasts Chief at Civic Club

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Lauderdale County's sheriff minced no words in answering questions about Meridian's police chief at a civic club meeting Tuesday.

Sheriff Billy Sollie was invited to be the guest speaker at the weekly meeting of the Downtown Optimist Club.

Questions from Optimist Club members quickly turned to the city of Meridian's new police chief.

Sheriff Sollie said it's time for the public to know about Police Chief James Lee.

Sollie says it's important for the county's law enforcement leaders to work together, and he says he's made many efforts to make that happen. But, he says he knows reports of turmoil in the city police department are credible.

"I think he's a bully," said Sollie. "All the comments we've been hearing about the treatment of the officers at the Meridian Police Department, I have no doubt that those are occurring or have occurred."

The sheriff says he felt the disrespect himself from Chief Lee at a meeting a couple of months ago regarding the East Mississippi Drug Task Force.

Sollie said he invited Lee, along with Lauderdale County Chief Deputy Ward Calhoun, to his office to see how they could work together fighting drugs.

"As we continued our conversation, the chief stared at Ward and said, 'I'm having a meeting with your boss.' Ward said, 'Do you want me to leave?' And the chief said, 'Yes, I want you to leave.'

The sheriff says the conversation ended there and he immediately texted Mayor Percy Bland with the message that the relationship between city and county law enforcement just fell off the cliff.

Newscenter 11 tried to get response from Chief James Lee with no success. Meridian Mayor Percy Bland returned our call Tuesday evening, and responded by saying, in part, ""I have a lot of respect for Sheriff Sollie and the work he and his deputies do. That meeting about the Drug Task Force happened more than three months ago. I don't agree with his comments about Chief Lee being a bully. I stand behind my Chief and he will be my Chief for the next four years, or for as long as I am mayor. Chief Lee will continue to serve hand-in-hand with Sheriff Sollie to provide safety for our residents."

The Mayor noted that Chief James Lee personally helped the Sheriff at a jail riot back in August, even taking off his gas mask, and giving it to a deputy.