JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Exclusive documents uncovered by 3 On Your Side show just how much sexual harassment lawsuits lobbed against Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason could cost taxpayers: $230,000.
It took the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department almost four months to produce the settlements, citing confidentiality clauses and a federal judge’s order that supposedly sealed them.
3 On Your Side filed a public records request to get these in mid-January, shortly after news broke that the sheriff had reached settlements with the women in two cases.
Though we were told the settlements had confidentiality clauses, the Mississippi Ethics Commission ruled in 2018 that no public body can agree to make a public record confidential by contract; rather it must be grounded in law or a court decision.
This ruling came after in response to a public records complaint WLBT filed with the Mississippi Ethics Commission against the city of Jackson in 2016 after city employees failed to produce records considered public by state law.
Claire Barker, attorney for the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department, then said a court had ruled the settlements would be sealed, and we would have to petition the U.S. District Court to get the documents.
WLBT brought in legal counsel to ensure the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department would produce the documents under state law.
Barker said a federal judge had given a verbal order to seal the documents in both cases, but she could not produce transcripts to back up this claim and ultimately released the settlements to WLBT.
The women involved in these suits will get nearly a quarter-million dollars for what they dealt with as Hinds County deputies, and the sheriff won’t have to pay a dime.
The documents show Cheryl Matory will receive $150,000 and Belendia Jones will get $80,000.
Matory filed a lawsuit against Mason in December 2016, claiming the sheriff created a sexually hostile work environment and practiced sexual and racial discrimination.
In the lawsuit, Matory said Mason fired her for not arranging sexual encounters between him and another officer, Tomeca Barnes.
The other suit, filed by Jones in February of 2017, claims Mason sexually harassed her through explicit and threatening text messages.
Those women both claim they weren’t paid the wages Mason promised when they were hired.
The settlements spell out that Sheriff Mason does not admit any responsibility or liability.
3 On Your Side reached out to Mason and he agreed to talk about the lawsuits, but said he didn’t have time to do so Thursday.
He then directed us to Barker, who said Mason cannot speak about the allegations or lawsuits because he could get sued as a result.