Two days after a local civil rights leader was arrested, and the head of the NAACP in Meridian is questioning the motives. Randle Jennings was taken into custody Monday for contempt of court in Lauderdale County Court. The arrest was for failure to produce financial records that legal counsel for the city of Meridian requested. For several years Jennings has been in an ongoing dispute with the city over municipal funds he was given for a failed children's program.
John Harris, who is president of the Meridian/Lauderdale County NAACP, says it's ironic that Jennings arrest comes less than a week after a lawsuit was filed by the Department of Justice.
'It's almost as if Mr. Jennings is caught in the 'pipeline' himself.'
Harris is referring to the 'School to Jail Pipeline,' that the Department of Justice alleges has existed between Meridian Public Schools and the local youth justice system. Just last week the federal agency filed a lawsuit on the matter. This was followed by ethics complaints being filed by the local NAACP against more than 60 local leaders. Some of the local officials involved in Randle Jennings' hearing Monday were among those who had been reported to the Mississippi Ethics Commission.
'Seemingly, it's a conflict of interest for these individuals to be sued by the Justice Department and for these individuals to know that ethics charges have been filed at the time of the court,' says Harris.
Although Jennings is head of the local NAACP education sector and was actively involved in having the 64 ethics complaints filed, Harris stresses that the legal action that the city of Meridian is pursuing against Jennings is not related to the organization.
In the matter involving the city, Harris says two years ago he personally paid the more than $4,800 on Randle Jennings' behalf that was needed to settle the case. Randle Jennings was informed almost two weeks ago that he needed to appear in Lauderdale County Court on October 29th. The purpose was to provide 24 specific financial record items to the legal counsel for the city of Meridian. This included more than 20 sub-items. According to John Harris, this was too much information for anyone to provide with roughly ten days notice.
Meanwhile, amid all that has transpired over the last week, Harris says the local NAACP will stay on task.
'The ethics complaints have already been filed. We're going to let that run the course. Our objective is to get Mr. Jennings from being incarcerated so he can now comply with the judge.'
Here's the history of the failed youth program that's the center piece of this case: In 2006 the Meridian City Council unanimously voted to grant Randle Jennings funds to start an after school program for youth; John Harris, who was on the city council at the time, says the program came to a screeching halt when three of the four investors in the program pulled out of the deal. The city of Meridian was the fourth and final entity to cancel its support for the program.