A South Mississippi police officer is being accused of some serious allegations. Dozens of immigrant workers say they plan to file suit against Pascagoula Police Captain George Tillman. They are accusing Tillman of kidnapping and enslaving 30 Mexicans.
The men came to the United States under temporary work visas. But they are calling those visas "a new form of slavery."
More than a dozen workers stood on the steps of the state capitol Wednesday with enlarged visas hanging from their necks and wanted signs accusing Captain George Tillman of kidnapping.
"We resisted, but we were forced to pack our bags and get into vans," said a worker's translator.
The workers say just weeks ago, Tillman held them against their will at a Pascagoula apartment complex. However interim Pascagoula Police Chief Eddie Stewart says it's all a lie.
"We certainly did not kidnap, enslave or hold anyone against their will. If an individual decides he is tired of working, he can certainly leave this country and go back to his country," says Stewart.
The men initially worked for a company in Texas where they allege the living conditions they were provided were horrible. They then left for Mobile and worked for a company called Blackhawk, that they allege mistreated them. Then they found jobs in Pascagoula. But under the visa program, the workers must file new paperwork if they go to work for a new company. That's something Stewart says they didn't do.
"We had a call for service on August the second where there seemed to be almost a dispute between a couple of local recruiters in Pascagoula, and it was over who these workers should be assigned to. And we simply went to the scene and mediated that dispute as we would any other type of disturbance call. We took no enforcement action, we didn't even detain anyone," Stewart said.
Workers say that's not what happened.
"Captain George Tillman arrived at our doorstep in uniform with his badge and gun. He was accompanied by another officer and a recruiter from Blackhawk. Tillman told us that the recruiter from Blackhawk was our owner and that we had to go with him. He said that if we didn't, we would face prison and deportation," a translator said.
Chief Stewart calls the whole situation "unfortunate."
"A lot of times it's hard to defend something that's so ludicrous as what we are talking about today. And it's taking up a lot of my time and the city's time when we have bigger problems and a bigger mission," Stewart said.
Several civil rights leaders and organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union are supporting the Mexican guest workers. However, the Pascagoula Police Department insists that the allegations are all false and they don't understand where they are coming from.