OXFORD, Miss. (CN) - A sergeant claims in Federal Court that his sheriff - a fan of Mississippi State football - fired him for truthfully telling a newspaper reporter that a Bulldogs wide receiver had been arrested.
Rodricus Carltez Hurst sued Lee County, Mississippi, claiming he was fired in retaliation for releasing truthful information that could embarrass Mississippi State, and because he is black.
Lee County is the only defendant.
Hurst, of Tupelo, says he worked for the Lee County Sheriff's Department for nearly 5 years before he was unjustly fired in January.
He claims Sheriff Jim Johnson fired him for talking to the press about the arrest of Chad Bumphis, a 22-year-old junior wide receiver.
Hurst claims the sheriff had no policy against disclosing routine information about arrests to the public or press.
"On Jan. 1, 2012, several newspaper reporters called the Lee County Jail, inquiring about whether Chad Bumphis, a prominent Mississippi State University football player, was in jail," the complaint states. "Plaintiff told a newspaper reporter employed by the 'North Mississippi Daily Journal' that Bumphis had been arrested but had been released on a recognizance bond. Upon inquiry about why Bumphis was arrested, plaintiff responded that he did not know since he was not there, but that he had heard that there had been a fight. He further told the reporter that any information about what happened would have to come from the Tupelo Police Department, the agency which had made the arrest."
Hurst says he was quoted in an article on Jan. 2, but that his quote was not precise.
He claims another employee, a white woman, also was quoted by the "Clarion Ledger," but the sheriff fired only Hurst, an African American.
"Thereafter, on or about Jan. 1, 2012, the jail administrator, at the direction of the Sheriff of Lee County, informed plaintiff that he was fired," the complaint states. "The white female employee was not fired, although she was suspended and demoted.
"The decision to fire plaintiff was based on the content of his speech to the newspaper. The sheriff has no policy against releasing routine information about arrests to the press. The sheriff is a fan of Mississippi State University and was angry because information which was released might embarrass Mississippi State University. The sheriff has no policy against identifying arrestees to the press. The sheriff fired plaintiff because the arrestee identified was a Mississippi State football player."
Hurst says his firing in retaliation for releasing information of "public concern" violates the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
He seeks reinstatement and damages for lost income and anxiety.
He is represented by Jim Waide, of Tupelo.
Gary Carnathan, a spokesman for the Lee County Sheriff's Department, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
"We have not seen the lawsuit yet," he told Courthouse News on Tuesday.
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