Stop the Retaliation Against Black Officers Challenging Eastern Shore Race Discrimination

December 16, 2016

Learn more and see legal documents about this case

 

Contact: Meredith Curtis Goode, media@aclu-md.org or 443-310-9946

Pocomoke City, MD - Deeply troubled about the conspiracy of racial discrimination and retaliation being waged by officials in Pocomoke City and Worcester County against Kelvin Sewell, Pocomoke's first Black police chief, Lieutenant Lynell Green and Detective Frank Savage, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland is working closely with Pocomoke community members who continue to strongly support Mr. Sewell for bringing real community policing and a sharp drop in crime during his four years in office.

"We saw justice when Kelvin Sewell came. We no longer see justice. We see racial discrimination, we see unfairness, and it's time for a change," said Rev. James Jones, pastor of New Macedonia Baptist Church in Pocomoke City. "We the people of Pocomoke, especially the Citizens for a Better Pocomoke, will continue to stand for what we feel is right, which is to promote what Kelvin Sewell has done. We will fight until he is re-instated. We want it. We demand it."

As part of this effort, the ACLU has filed Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) request with the Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor to see what other recent examples exist of "misconduct in office" charges pursued against Maryland law enforcement officers by the State Prosecutor.  On Friday, the State Prosecutor agreed to provide the requested information promptly.

"Chief Kelvin Sewell and other Black officers from Pocomoke City are whistleblowers who have been targeted with a conspiracy of racial discrimination and retaliation by officials in Pocomoke and Worcester County," said Susan Goering, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maryland. "We believe that our State government should be defending these whistleblowers, who have exposed a culture of racial harassment in Worcester County, not prosecuting them over a minor fender bender with no injuries. There are many recent allegations of official misconduct by Maryland police involving real victims with real and substantial injuries that deserve the State Prosecutor's attention."

Kelvin Sewell, the popular and respected first Black police chief in Pocomoke City, brought true community policing, and a dramatic drop in crime. In the process, he became the face of accountable policing in the small Eastern Shore town.  Yet when Mr. Sewell defended Black officers on his staff who filed serious complaints of racial harassment, he along with the other Black officers became targets of retaliation.

When that happened, Chief Sewell, Lt. Green and Detective Savage filed formal charges of racial discrimination and retaliation against officials from Pocomoke City, Worcester County and the State -charges later endorsed and joined by the United State's government. Pocomoke officials responded by firing Mr. Sewell and Det. Savage, and to make matters worse, they joined with Worcester County officials to call in the State Prosecutor's office, urging prosecutors to investigate outrageously false and offensive rumors about the three officers. 

With the help of the ACLU and Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the three officers filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in Baltimore, challenging the discrimination and retaliation they have suffered.  A few months after the lawsuit was filed, the State Prosecutor lodged charges against Mr. Sewell and Mr. Green related to the handling of a 2014 fender-bender involving a driver and two parked cars, in which no injuries occurred and all property damages were paid by insurance. 

It was on these charges that Chief Sewell stood trial earlier this month December before a nearly all-white Worcester County jury, winning acquittal on a conspiracy charge but suffering wrongful conviction on a count of misconduct.  This week, Chief Sewell's criminal defense lawyers moved to overturn the conviction as contrary to the law and the evidence.  Lt. Green's trial begins December 19.

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