Laid-off black deputies claim discrimination in Shelby Co.

CENTER, TX (KTRE) - As customary, when there's a new sheriff in town, new staff follows. Newly elected Shelby County Sheriff Willis Blackwell is no different.

"As of Dec. 31 no one here had a job," Blackwell said.

Everyone reapplied for their jobs, including two African-American deputies. Neither got their job back. Both claim racial discrimination.

"I'm claiming it because I just feel like, you know, if there's a problem he could have came and talked to me," Lester Pitts said. "We could have talked with each other."

Pitts shares Curtis Archie's public complaint that there are no longer any African-Americans patrolling Shelby county. The pastor and licensed peace officer says that's dangerous.

"Blacks knows blacks," Archie said. "Blacks know black ways."

There are minorities in the sheriff's department working in the jail and dispatch. The sheriff says that makes the department qualify AS an equal-opportunity employer.

Blackwell let six people go, including a woman. He followed the recommendation of an interview panel that he personally selected.

"It's my ultimate decision to decide who represents me the best and who is the least liability for me," Blackwell said. "And the choice I made is the ones I'm going to stick by and that's the way it's gonna be."

Citizens are concerned of a return to racial division, just like in the 60s.

"Here it is 40 years later, we don't have proper representation," Wendell Johnson said.

For now, Archie is ready to become a full-time pastor. Pitts is applying with other law enforcement departments. Becoming a peace officer is his lifelong ambition.

No discrimination lawsuits have been filed, but the men are in conversation with human rights organizations. They also have the support of African-American church congregations.

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