Independent probe sought in Miss. patrol testing

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — The state NAACP and an attorney for some black state troopers on Wednesday called for an independent investigation into Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol promotions exams that they say some candidates received ahead of time.

Gov. Haley Barbour announced Aug. 29 that the Department of Public Safety was conducting an internal investigation after authorities were told about possible impropriety in testing for officers’ promotions. The tests were given in mid-August, and Barbour said the results were thrown out.

Valerie Hicks Powe, an attorney for the Mississippi Central Troopers’ Coalition, said during a news conference Wednesday that the U.S Justice Department or another independent group should investigate the testing procedures.

“We found out that high-ranking officials in the Highway Patrol stole the test and provided it to other, specified troopers who they intended to have an unfair bias,” Hicks Powe said. “This speaks volumes as to the integrity of the Highway Patrol — the fact that it has been compromised considerably suggests that there is reason to believe there is more there.”

Hicks Powe said she has been told by several troopers that DPS executives emailed the promotions examinations to some people.

“There has to be a restoration of the integrity of this agency,” she said.

Mississippi National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Derrick Johnson said, “We find that this situation is something that is unbecoming of a law enforcement agency.”

DPS spokesman Jon Kalahar said in response that the agency is still conducting its investigation. He said when the probe is finished, “the governor’s office will make a statement regarding those findings.”

Barbour said Aug. 29 that the investigation had started the previous week. He wouldn’t say what prompted it, and he said he didn’t know how long it would take.

“Anyone involved in any impropriety related to this testing will be severely punished,” Barbour said then.

In February 2009, the NAACP filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Mississippi’s 200 black troopers, alleging unfair treatment in promotions to officer positions.

In July 2009, the EEOC said it found evidence of discrimination and forwarded its findings to the Justice Department.