Local News

Ex-Highway Patrol officer exonerated in slur case

Posted April 3, 2009

— A retired captain with the state Highway Patrol said Friday he feels exonerated after being falsely accused in an investigation of a racial slur more than two years ago.

Retired Highway Patrol Lt. Virgil Lessane said in September 2006 that someone using the "n-word" left a voice-mail message on his cell phone. He said he could hear four men on speaker-phone during the message, including his boss at the time, Capt. Phil Jones.

Highway Patrol cruiser generic Defamation suit over alleged slur ends

Jones has been fighting to clear his name ever since, and when Lessane recanted that statement last month, Jones felt vindicated.

"That's all I wanted. I just wanted to clear my name," he said Friday.

Lessane sent a letter to former Highway Patrol Commander Col. William Clay, maintaining that Jones was laughing when another trooper used the slur. He said in the letter that he was offended by Jones' actions and was distressed he didn't reprimand the trooper who used the slur.

"I was embarrassed," Jones said Friday. "I felt I was labeled a racist, which I'm not, (and) that my name had been basically dragged through the mud."

Although he maintained his innocence, Jones retired from the Highway Patrol in November 2006 – before facing any disciplinary action.

"I felt if I didn't retire, I would lose all my benefits and my retirement which I worked all those years for," he said.

Trooper Mitch Foard was accused of actually uttering the racial slur and was demoted. Foard also has maintained his innocence, but the State Personnel Commission has upheld his demotion.

Jones hired a lawyer shortly after the accusation was leveled against him and sued Lessane for defamation of character.

Lessane last month issued a signed statement in which he acknowledged that he doesn't know who left the voice-mail message and that there was no evidence Jones was present when the call was made. He also said he knew Jones was "an honest person of high integrity," and he had never heard him use or condone any racial slurs.

Jones on Friday dropped his suit against Lessane, saying he was satisfied the signed statement was enough to clear his name.

The Highway Patrol declined to comment on the case because of ongoing litigation with Foard.


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  • roshanda57 Apr 8, 2009

    Why hasn't the highway patrol made a public statement of apology to former Captain Jones? How can they stand behind Castalloe now? Captain Jones, may God bless you and your family.

  • wegsbabygirl Apr 7, 2009

    When this lie came out in Oct 06', it was sensational journalism..Lessane's rasism card played for all it's worth. Headlines read "Patrol Captain Out over Racial Slur" &
    "Patrol's loose lips", which I quote from.. "A prompt and just conclusion to an investigation of the recent incident is the place to start" It was TOO prompt and FAR from just. No one could convience Castelleo, Clay & the others that it was not them on the tape. Their minds made up most likely before they even listened to it, as Lessane accused the two men in his letter. The rest of the superiors followed suit. Neither Jones nor Foard were listened to when they denied the incident took place, narrow minds made up. Only after lawsuits were filed would their story be told, and listened to, well except by the HP, as they "stood by the investigator & the investigation" even after the OAH hearing for Foard proved otherwise. Jones & Foard do need to be congratulated on their fortitude during these last 2+ yrs.

  • MaggieGC Apr 6, 2009

    brandeedee "for showing great grace, character and integrity"~Cpt Jones showed the same character and integrity during his entire 28 yrs with the NCSHP, and unfortunately, Virgil Lessane cast the black cloud of doubt when he concocted the whole story. Then Castelleo, Lockley, Clendenin, Clay, Hatcher, Hicks, & Beatty took the word of someone who lacked that same character and integrity (Lessane)and forced Cpt Jones out. There is no amount of money to ease the humiliation and suffering that Cpt Jones, his wife, son, & extended family have endured for the last 2 1/2 yrs~all at the hands of a lying vindictive lowlife and the Archdale lynch mob.. It is nice to know that someone recognizes his strength in this matter, as he has truly been the bigger~better person than any of the people who tried to feed him~and 1st Sgt Foard to the wolves!! It is a sad fact knowing that his exemplary leadership in the NCSHP was cut short at the hands of those with no integrity!!

  • CarolinianByChoice Apr 6, 2009

    "Jones on Friday dropped his suit against Lessane, saying he was satisfied the signed statement was enough to clear his name."

    Thank you, former Captain Phil Jones, for showing great grace, character and integrity. It is heartening to know that clearing your name was truly the objective here, not making a buck off this whole ordeal as others may have chosen to do.

    I hope that life has presented you with an opportunity that is as fulfilling as what you had with the SHP (better yet, even more fulfilling).

  • oldcorp Apr 6, 2009

    Is'nt it interesting that if a B/M uses that word in addressing another, then they might as well be talking about the weather? No issue at all, almost common speech. But one small change, ie, who uses it, can cause the p.c. world to come crashing down?

  • native_son_2 Apr 3, 2009

    Yet again, it has been proven that the NCSHP not only rushed to judgement but allowed a good man's name to be trashed. Shame on them. This entire case has played out to be nothing but one big lie. It would be nice to see the NAACP come forward and condemn this now proven false charge of racism, as this case with its lies hurts everyone who really IS a victim of racism. Clearly Lessane is NOT such victim here.

  • whatelseisnew Apr 3, 2009

    Assuming some criminal charge can be brought to this, this man needs to be charged with said crime and if guilty serve the appropriate punishment.

  • illegals--GO HOME Apr 3, 2009

    Hey, maybe somebody should dig deep into some of the background on Lesane......you might find that he is not the squeaky clean type that he tries to make himself out to be. Bet he could not stand up to the scrutiny that he brought upon these officers. I would not have let him off with a letter if I had been Jones. There are people pressured very often into early retirement because they know you can't fight the "top" of these organizations....if they want you gone they will find a way. Good people too in some of the cases. I am so sorry this happened to these two officers.

  • MaggieGC Apr 3, 2009

    blazinmami8807..HUH?? Is FALSELY accusing someone of using "the n word" ok or a "game" as you call it?? NO..it's a criminal offense..it's called slander and defamation of character which is what Lessane did to Jones and Foard. This is what the story is about..LIES and a botched investigation by the HP.

  • blazinmami8807 Apr 3, 2009

    Maybe finally people will see that using the N word aint a game. Stop listening to rap music and thinking its okay to use the word if you're out of your league. Sorry it has to be that way, but I didn't create the rules!