GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - Jerry Cooksey, the former second in command at the Gautier Police Department, is suing the city and Police Chief Dante Elbin. In a lawsuit filed Thursday, which gives only one side of the case, he describes uncovering criminal acts being committed within the department, including fraud, embezzlement, and tax evasion. Cooksey said when he brought the information to the chief's attention, Elbin responded by saying he would be able to explain it away and that no one would question his reasons.
Cooksey specifically complained about time sheet fraud. He claims the chief was aware that some employees were allowed to fabricate time cards, and be paid for days and hours not worked. Cooksey said employees even admitted to the time card fraud and no action was taken, thereby allowing the fraud to continue.
Cooksey also claims Chief Elbin used DUI grant money to pay employees not involved with DUI enforcement. When Elbin refused to stop using the grant money, Cooksey said he refused to sign off on any more time sheets.
In addition, Cooksey said the use of reserve funds to pay employees meant no state or federal taxes were deducted.
The suit goes on to list other concerns Cooksey had about employees misusing city property, and using patrol cars for private events, such as security guard work.
During the summer of 2015, Cooksey was acting chief while Chief Elbin was on vacation. He took that opportunity to bring his concerns to City Manager Samantha Abell. But Cooksey said Abell just became irritated with him and accused him of lying. She eventually did conduct about 15 interviews with officers, but those who were interviewed confided to Cooksey that the city manager didn't seem interested in finding the truth, but rather in discrediting Cooksey's accusations.
In the end, Abell wrote a report to Chief Elbin that made no mention of the allegations, and instead simply stated that Cooksey was trying to undermine the chief. When Cooksey questioned Abell about the report and if she was involved in a cover up with the chief, Abell reportedly told him it would probably be best if Cooksey just left the department.
Later that same day, Chief Elbin called Cooksey into a meeting and admonished him for talking to the city manager. He stripped Cooksey of his title as Captain of Administration and transferred him to the Patrol Division.
Cooksey said he then took his concerns to Jason Pugh in human resources, who said he was powerless to help. Cooksey said he was advised by Pugh, who was afraid for his own job, to keep quiet, and work towards retirement.
In September 2016, Cooksey was placed on leave and questioned by new city manager Paula Yancey and City Attorney Josh Danos about Abell's prior report. Cooksey said the city then concocted false grounds for his termination, saying he sexually harassed a male employee. But that he was given an opportunity to resign, rather than be fired.
Cooksey initially refused, saying he wanted to appeal the issues to the Civil Service Commission. But later, after learning of a position with the city of Moss Point, he decided to make a deal with Gautier: Cooksey agreed to withdraw his appeal and resign if the city would approve his transfer and withdraw his termination. But Cooksey claims Gautier city leaders came up with their own plan that would ensure he was never hired by Moss Point.
Thursday, December 29, 2016, Jerry Cooksey filed his lawsuit in federal court. He's asking for compensatory damages for things like emotional distress, suffering, humiliation, loss of reputation, and mental anguish. He's also asking that the taxpayers of Gautier and Jackson County be repaid for all funds "knowingly misspent and misappropriated."
Gautier City Manager Paula Yancey released a statement about the lawsuit that reads:
"I have recently become aware that former Gautier police officer, Jerry Cooksey, has filed a federal action against the City. It is our policy to refrain from commenting on the substance of ongoing litigation. However, after a brief review of the filing, it is clear that many of the allegations are completely and demonstrably fabricated. If and when the City is served with the lawsuit, we will move forward in vigorously defending these false claims, and I trust that justice will prevail."
WLOX News Now also reached out to Gautier Mayor Gordon Gollott who described Cooksey's allegations as "a surprise, I think, to all of us."
"I haven't even read it yet," Gollott said of the lawsuit when we called him at noon on Friday. "No comment at this time. I don't know a thing about it right now."
You can read the full lawsuit here: http://bit.ly/2hUpmx4