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Millersville Mayor steps down as more city officials announce exit following lawsuit

Millersville city hall.JPG
Posted at 2:06 PM, Apr 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-20 20:32:02-04

MILLERSVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Mayor Tim Lassiter added to a growing list of Millersville officials to step down following a lawsuit filed against the city last fall.

Lassiter told NewsChannel 5 Investigates Wednesday that he based his decision on personal reasons with his family and nothing more.

“I’ve got a lot of stuff going on in my life. I’ve been doing that for a long time. What’s best for me and my wife is the main reason,” Lassiter said.

Vice mayor Keith Bell will take over as mayor until elections in November to fill the remaining two years of Lassiter’s term.

City manager Steve Collie told staff last week about his plans to leave the department and move on to another job opportunity. He’s been with the city since the fall of 2020.

“It was a job that I had considered one time before when it came open. I’m going to do that. They’re looking for an interim (city manager) right now. We’re talking to some people, and we’ve already put the ad out,” Collie said.

Former Millersville Police Chief Mark Palmer announced his retirement in February after more than 30 years in law enforcement and five years as chief. Palmer won’t be going far as he continues to work as a volunteer firefighter for the Millersville Fire Department.

Dustin Carr became the permanent replacement to Mark Palmer after serving as assistant chief for the last few years.

Palmer, Lassiter and Carr were all mentioned by name in a lawsuit filed on behalf of two former Millersville Police officers who claimed they were intimidated out of the job.

Lassiter told NewsChannel 5 Investigates he wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit because “that’s what attorneys are for.” He went on to say that none of the departures have anything to do with the lawsuit.

“None of them have anything to do with the other. I can promise you that. If you want to know why Mark left, you have to ask him. If you want to know why Steve is leaving, you have to ask him,” Lassiter said.

Collie echoed the same remarks when we asked if these departures were in any way connected to the lawsuit.

“I don’t see any correlation that one thing has anything to do with the other. Lawsuits come and go with cities all the time. That has nothing to do with it,” Collie said.

The lawsuit filed in 2021 implicates city officials in a conspiracy to cover up systemic racism and wrongdoing by other officers.

In the 28-page document, former officer Robert Black and former Sergeant Josh Barnes described in detail numerous times where officers and chief Palmer routinely used the n-word.

The comments were in front of Barnes, who is Black, and Robert, who has a biracial son. Robert detailed multiple stories about how his fellow officers bullied him because of this, but things only got worse after the protesters began marching in honor of George Floyd in 2020.

“These are legitimate concerns that people have a right to know about,” Robert said last year.

Once the city determined that Robert was responsible for the social media posts, they fired him. Barnes stayed for a few months after but left the department when the alleged harassment became too much to handle.

Former Millersville officer Melissa Pearce, who is also named in the lawsuit, left the department the same month the lawsuit was filed. Robert alleged that Pearce repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances. Robert said he made multiple complaints about Pearce, but complaints went ignored.

Robert’s attorney Bryant Kroll says in his years of practicing unemployment law, he’s never seen anything like it. Not only were there audio recordings for evidence, but you have several officers who now say they too will testify against the department for what they saw.

“Here we have claims for retaliation for refusing to participate in illegal activity and refusing to remain silent about it,” Kroll said.