Editor’s note: This story contains sexually explicit language.
The former Lowndes County administrator’s secretary is alleging in a federal lawsuit that District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders sexually harassed her, both physically and verbally, for years.
In a complaint filed Monday against Sanders and Lowndes County in the U.S. District Court in Aberdeen, Cynthia Thompson alleges Sanders repeatedly asked her for sex and touched her inappropriately “since at least the time (Sanders) has been board president,” which dates back to the early 2000s.
Thompson was employed 24 years with the county and retired April 30. In her role, she primarily worked for the county administrator, but board members also directly supervised her work and would visit her individually in her office for that purpose, the complaint says.
Her complaint specifically alleges that when she and Sanders were alone in Thompson’s office, he “invariably sexually assaulted” her verbally or physically.
Sanders repeatedly invited Thompson to his home when his wife was out of town and asked Thompson to meet him at hotels, according to the complaint. It claims Sanders also harassed other women.
Sanders told Thompson he wanted to “lick it,” telling her she would “love it,” the complaint says. He also would touch her back, run his hands up her leg and touch her rear.
Thompson’s complaint says she told Sanders to stop when the harassment occurred and confronted him several times that his behavior was distressing her. Sanders would tell Thompson she was causing the harassment by “teasing” him and complained Thompson would not “give him any.”
Sanders harassed Thompson without any fear of repercussions from fellow supervisors, Thompson alleges, because there is no procedure under state law for board members to control the misconduct of another board member. Further, Sanders, “because of his political skills, has always enjoyed the support of the majority of the board of supervisors, regardless of his misconduct,” the complaint says.
The suit specifically references as an example racist comments Sanders made in June 2020 toward Black people — claiming they had not properly assimilated to society since slavery ended — which gained local, state and national publicity.
Sanders stepped down as board president shortly after, but his fellow board members took no “corrective” action.
Thompson did report the harassment to former County Administrator Ralph Bilingsley — who is also suing the county for allegations he was forced out of his job in September 2020 — and asked him not to report it to the board because she did not believe the majority of supervisors would act to control Sanders’ behavior.
Billingsley’s office was next to Thompson’s and he “was available” to mitigate the situation if Thompson would need to “cry out if (Sanders) should carry out his verbal demands for sex by physically assault(ing)” her. Her complaint says she felt District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks would also have protected her, but his office was in another building.
Thompson is seeking damages against the county and Sanders for the prolonged harassment. Her attorney, Jim Waide of Tupelo, would not comment on the lawsuit.
Sanders, when reached Wednesday by The Dispatch, said he had not seen the complaint and would not comment until after he was served.
Reporter Slim Smith and News Editor Isabelle Altman contributed to this report.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.