COFFEEVILLE – A settlement is pending in a lawsuit filed by former Coffeeville Police Chief Mark Martin alleging racial discrimination against Mayor William Shelton, Jr., and the Town of Coffeeville.
The lawsuit, which tells one side of the story, was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi in Oxford last September. According to the court documents, a settlement conference scheduled for May 28 was canceled at the parties’ request, citing a settlement is contingent on board approval.
In the lawsuit, Martin is seeking damages for lost income, mental anxiety and stress along with reinstatement as police chief. He is also asking for reasonable attorney’s fees, costs and expenses for the litigation filed by Tupelo attorney, Jim Waide of Waide & Associates.
According to court documents Martin was employed as police chief for 13 years before he was terminated on March 7, 2019, by the town’s board of aldermen. That vote, according to the allegations listed in the lawsuit, was the result of racial animosity by the mayor.
“Specifically, Defendant Shelton lied to the board by telling the board falsely, that Plaintiff would not respond or communicate with him. In fact, Plaintiff was communicating with the mayor. Defendant Shelton’s statements to the board, that Plaintiff would not respond or communicate with Defendant Shelton, were false and based on race,” according to the lawsuit.
Martin alleges that Shelton, who is black, is racially biased, causing the resignation of four white employees, replacing them with black persons since he took office in 2017. He also alleges that Shelton “made work conditions onerous” as he followed Martin and other police officers, even when they were not on duty. “Because the Plaintiff was white, Defendant Shelton attempted to control the day-to-day operations of the police department, under state law, it is clear that neither the mayor, nor the board, can control the day-to-day operations of the police department,” the lawsuit alleges.
The allegations were denied by Shelton and the town in a filing last October and there has been a flurry of filings from both sides during the last nine months. A jury trial is scheduled Dec. 7 if the final settlement is not approved.