Pocomoke Settles Racial Bias Lawsuit

first_imgBy Stephen Janis, Special to the AFROThe controversial firing of Kelvin Sewell, Pocomoke City’s first Black police chief, has resulted in a major settlement with the city and the promise of reform in the future.This week the city agreed to pay Sewell and Lieutenant Lynell Green $650,000 to settle claims they were subject to racial discrimination and later retaliation during their employment with the city. Pocomoke officials have also agreed to a consent decree with the plaintiffs to provide training for officers to prevent discrimination in the future and an overhaul of employment practices to eliminate racial bias.Kelvin Sewell, a former Baltimore Police Department homicide detective, was the first Black police chief of Pocomoke City, Md., on the state’s Eastern Shore. His tenure was cut short in the minds of many because of racist policies. (Courtesy Photo)The agreement marks the end of a protracted battle over the racially fraught termination of Sewell, which divided the town on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore.Sewell’s firing prompted a series of contentious city council meetings. It also spawned the Citizens for a Better Pocomoke, a group of primarily Black residents who pressed the city to reinstate Sewell.But, the conflict also exposed the underlying racial tensions in a town that was evenly split between Black and White residents.“I was proud of what I accomplished with foot patrols, getting officers to know all the residents, and having no homicides in five years. I didn’t care about politics. I just wanted to keep everyone safe – Black and White,” said Sewell in a written statement.“While the scars from this experience will never fade completely, I am hopeful that this Consent Decree will help protect both officers and the community in the future. Now I hope to move on with my own life, while also continuing to support Detective Savage in his ongoing fight.”Sewell, a retired Baltimore homicide detective, took the top job in Pocomoke in 2011. During his tenure Sewell emphasized a community-oriented approach to policing that included ordering officers to walk the streets of the city’s predominantly Black neighborhood called the “Backburn.”The strategy was embraced by the city residents and crime dropped. But the city council voted in a June 2015 closed door session to terminate Sewell.The settlement is not the end of legal proceedings however. Detective Frank Savage, whose initial complaint against a Worcester County Drug Task Force prompted the series of events that led to Sewell’s firing, has not settled with the city.“I loved my career in law enforcement, but it was taken away from me because I stood up for what was right,” said Detective Franklin Savage in a written statement. “Now, I’m in a fight for justice, and I am determined to hold those who have done wrong to me and my coworkers accountable for their actions.”Both Sewell and Green filed EEOC complaints that were later sustained alleging they were subject to retaliation for raising concerns about discriminatory practices.The settlement comes after Sewell’s abrupt firing in July of 2015 garnered national attention. Despite outcry from the community city officials refused to explain publicly why they fired Sewel.Later in court filings Sewell claimed he was let go for refusing to fire both Savage and Green after they filed discrimination complaints against a Worcester County Drug Task Force.Savage claimed in EEOC filings he was subject to racial harassment in the all-White unit. Among the allegations was the liberal use of the n-word in his presence, a drive to KKK lane where lynching had occurred in the past, and a food stamp with the image of President Barak Obama left in his desk.Despite the allegations recounted in the lawsuit city officials had claimed that the reason for firing Sewell was not racially motivated. Instead city officials promised details would be revealed during legal proceedings. However, court documents have not cited any specific reasons as to what prompted the council to vote to terminate him in June of 2015.Sewell and Green were represented by the Washington Lawyers Committee and the Maryland ACLU. Debbie Jeon, legal director of the ACLU said they will continue to move forward with the lawsuit until Savage’s claims are settled.“Today’s court filing marks an important step toward vindicating the rights of these three courageous men, who throughout this ordeal have showed themselves to be exactly the kind of police officers we all want to see in America, by standing up to racism and retaliation infecting law enforcement, despite steep personal costs,” said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director of the ACLU of MarylandDespite the settlement, legal proceedings involving Sewell are still ongoing.Shortly after he filed his lawsuit Maryland State Prosecutor Emmit Davit indicted him for failing to cite a driver who hit two parked cars in 2014. The indictment alleged Sewell failed to charge the driver because they were both members of a local African-American chapter of the Masons.In 2016 Sewell was convicted by a nearly all-White jury of misconduct in office. Later the Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned the conviction, ruling that Sewell did not receive a fair trial when he was excluded from calling two expert witnesses.Since then Davitt has vowed to retry the case. A motions hearing is scheduled for later this month.last_img

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