City wants quick end to suit over cop comments

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 26, 2000

The lawsuit over racist and sexually explicit comments reportedly made by a Vicksburg police sergeant about a rape victim needs to be dealt with quickly, city leaders said Wednesday.

“I feel strongly that the litigation should be resolved instead of the city fighting it,” said South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb.

Mayor Robert Walker said it was inappropriate to comment on pending litigation, but added, “I want to deal with this and get it behind us.”

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The lawsuit stems from a meeting at the Vicksburg Police Department on July 19,1999, the day after Lorie G. Stevens was raped by two men who were lying in wait inside a vacant house on Sky Farm Avenue. Stevens and her four children had gone to the house to look at it as a possible residence.

At the police line-up meeting that night, according to a statement by one police officer who was present, a dozen officers were discussing the seriousness of the crime when Sgt. Carl Houston asked if the victim was black or white.

Upon learning that she was white, and the two suspects in custody were black, Houston said that “oh, I bet … she started to enjoy it and rocked back,” inferring that she would enjoy being raped because black men are better at sex, according to a statement by Officer Joseph Shows.

When several officers, including Shows, approached Houston later on that same shift and told him they were offended by the comments, he said, “I don’t have to care about that, and I meant what I said,” Shows’ statement indicated.

“It’s quite a shameful thing that occurred, and it’s also a shame this person was not terminated or severely disciplined much earlier,” Habeeb said.

North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young also said she could not comment on the litigation, but said citizens should not judge the city’s response to the incident without all the facts.

“I don’t think a person can judge because they are not aware of how the situation was handled,” Young said.

Houston resigned as a sergeant from the Vicksburg Police Department in May, nearly a year after the incident, for unspecified reasons.

Two weeks ago, Houston requested in writing that the Vicksburg Civil Service Board rule him eligible to be rehired, and that request was granted.

While the mayor said he could not discuss Houston’s employment specifically, he said he had “very strong views on the subject.”

“There is a standard of conduct that I expect from any city employee,” Walker said. “There are some things that shouldn’t even enter the mind, let alone be done or said.”

Vicksburg attorney Travis T. Vance Jr. and Jackson attorney James W. Nobles filed the case in Warren County Court seeking $75,000 in damages. Houston was initially a defendant, but was dropped from the suit that, under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, will be tried without a jury.

The suit claims that Houston, acting as an employee of the City of Vicksburg, made derogatory, defamatory and slanderous statements meant to demean and degrade her character and reputation.

Stevens’ now lives in Virginia with three of her children. Her divorce was finalized just over a year after the attack. Her former husband, Joe Stevens, still lives in Vicksburg with their fourth child.

“There was a lot of stress in our lives after the attack, and it just took its toll on us,” Joe Stevens said at the time of the divorce.

Concerning the alleged offensive comments, Stevens said he met with Walker, Young and City Attorney Nancy Thomas, but failed to get a satisfactory response, so he filed the lawsuit.