- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A longtime law enforcement officer who has led Mississippi’s prison system the past two years has been named the new head of the state Department of Public Safety.

Gov. Phil Bryant on Monday announced his nomination of Marshall Fisher as public safety commissioner. The position requires confirmation by the state Senate.

Fisher will succeed Albert Santa Cruz, who is retiring Tuesday.

Bryant named attorney Pelicia Hall as acting commissioner of the Department of Corrections. She has been Fisher’s chief of staff there since March 2015.

The Department of Public Safety includes the Highway Patrol, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, the state Office of Homeland Security and the state Crime Lab.

Fisher was MBN director from 2005 to 2014. Bryant chose him to be Department of Corrections commissioner in January 2015 after Christopher Epps, who had led the prison system for a dozen years, retired and was indicted on federal corruption charges. Epps pleaded guilty in 2015 and still awaits sentencing.

As Bryant introduced Fisher at a news conference Monday at the Department of Public Safety, he read a list of Fisher’s previous jobs. Before Fisher went to work for MBN, he spent two decades working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, including time as head of DEA operations in Mississippi. He also worked for the DEA in Texas, Kansas and Kentucky, and at the agency’s headquarters Washington.

“It’s obvious from the governor’s comments that I can’t keep a job,” Fisher deadpanned.

Santa Cruz has led the Department of Public Safety since then-Gov. Haley Barbour nominated him for the job in 2011, and has often had a tense relationship with legislators, particularly budget writers.

Under Santa Cruz’s tenure, DPS has upgraded its driver’s license system and improved the Crime Lab, which it now calls the Forensics Lab. But the department has also had legal problems, and two of its divisions settled lawsuits with former employees in 2016.

The Bureau of Narcotics settled a sexual harassment lawsuit for $25,000 and the Office of Homeland Security settled a sex discrimination lawsuit for $75,000. Both were filed by former employees.

Hall is in her second stint working at the Department of Corrections. From July 2008 to April 2011, she was an assistant attorney general assigned to the Department of Corrections. After that, she was chief attorney for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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