Monday, January 7, 2019

Allegations of racism that divided a Maryland town remain unresolved

Allegations of racism that divided 
/var/folders/bx/ybj90ht9565dns354cc98m380000gq/T/com.microsoft.Word/WebArchiveCopyPasteTempFiles/NWOMPSBLCII6LFQPELCLVGBO2Q.jpga Maryland town remain unresolved
/var/folders/bx/ybj90ht9565dns354cc98m380000gq/T/com.microsoft.Word/WebArchiveCopyPasteTempFiles/NWOMPSBLCII6LFQPELCLVGBO2Q.jpgFormer Pocomoke City police chief Kelvin Sewell with supporters after he was fired in 2015. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
January 6 at 6:00 PM
The allegations of racism that divided a Maryland town more than three years ago won’t be resolved any time soon.
In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Maryland’s state prosecutor said that he plans to 
retry a misdemeanor misconduct case against Kelvin Sewell, Pocomoke City’s first black police chief. 
Sewell was fired in 2015 after he refused to dismiss two black officers who accused the Eastern Shore 
city’s police department of racial discrimination.

The statement by State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt comes after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals 
overturned Sewell’s misconduct conviction. The state had accused Sewell of mishandling a motor vehicle 
crash in 2014, when a driver struck two unoccupied cars parked in Pocomoke City. Sewell was charged 
after failing to issue a citation to the driver, who said he fell asleep at the wheel. No one was injured in the 
incident. “It’s likely we will retry the case,” Davitt said. “A decision will be made within the next few weeks. 
I spoke to the individuals whose cars were damaged. There are other witnesses who had to testify. We want 
to make sure everybody is available.”

The appeals court ruled Nov. 29 that the case should be remanded for a new trial, concluding that the Worcester 
County Circuit Court made a mistake when it did not allow two police experts called by Sewell’s defense 
attorneys to testify during the December 2016 trial. Sewell’s attorneys argued the experts should have been 
allowed to explain officer discretion in traffic cases. Sewell’s attorneys applauded the ruling.
“The Court of Special Appeals correctly recognized the importance of a law enforcement official’s ability to 
exercise independent judgment and discretion,” said Lloyd Liu, one of Sewell’s lawyers. Sewell, who is now 
chief senior investigator for the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office, said that he was “extremely grateful to the 
appeals court for taking such care in considering my case and for safeguarding my rights for a fair trial. 
It renews a faith I’ve always had in our justice system.”

Sewell’s supporters contend he was fired in retaliation for refusing to dismiss two black officers — then-
Lt. Lynell Green and then-detective Franklin Savage — who filed complaints with the U.S. Equal 
Employment Opportunity Commission describing a hostile working environment. City officials have 
adamantly denied those allegations of racial discrimination.

In 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated the officers’ complaints and 
determined there were “reasonable-cause findings” in the case, according to an EEOC statement. After 
unsuccessful talks aimed at conciliation between the parties, the EEOC referred the charges to the Justice 
Department.


In a separate action in 2016, Sewell, Green and Savage filed a lawsuit in federal court against Pocomoke 
City and its police department, claiming that they “were mocked, threatened, demeaned, demoted, punished, 
falsely accused of misconduct, ostracized and humiliated because of their race.”

In 2016, the Justice Department asked to join the civil rights lawsuit filed by Sewell, Savage and Green. In a 
26-page filing, the Justice Department charged that the Worcester County sheriff and the state of Maryland 
subjected the officers to a hostile work environment. The lawsuit, which also named as defendants the city’s former 
manager, its mayor, the Worcester County sheriff’s office, the state’s attorney’s office and the Maryland State Police, 
came seven months after Sewell was fired.

The lawsuit described an “unchecked pattern and practice of virulent” racial discrimination, including an alleged 
incident in which someone left a bloody deer tail on Savage’s windshield and a claim that in 2014 Savage “found 
in his desk drawer a fake food stamp on which an image of President Obama had been imposed.”
On May 31, 2014, according to the lawsuit, Savage received a text message that read, “What’s ya body count 
n-----? I’m in double digits.”City officials denied the allegations. That lawsuit is still pending in federal court.


On July 16, 2016, Sewell and Green were indicted by a Worcester County grand jury on charges of misconduct 
and conspiracy for allegedly interfering with the investigation of the 2014 motor vehicle crash.
State prosecutors argued that the driver, Douglas Matthews, a local correctional officer, was not charged 
because he, Sewell and Green, who also responded to the scene, were all members of Prince Hall Masonic Lodge.
Sewell’s attorneys argued that his handling of the case “was reasonable under the circumstance and consistent 
with the routine discretion that a small-town chief exercises,” according to court documents.
Sewell was convicted in November 2016 of misconduct by a Worcester County Circuit Court jury. He was acquitted 
of the conspiracy charge.

In December 2016, Green was found guilty by a Worcester County jury of conspiracy to commit misconduct in office. 
Green was acquitted of the misconduct charge.
The charge of misconduct in office is a misdemeanor, Davitt said. There is no set sentence if convicted on that charge, 
he said. “Even though it’s a misdemeanor, the state says the sentence is any penalty that is not cruel or unusual. That is 
for the court to determine.” Davitt said the case would be set for a new trial in Worcester County Circuit Court.
He denied the misconduct case was punitive. “It was not retaliatory, and there was no evidence it was,” said Davitt, 
who said the case was filed after the civil rights lawsuit because other parties had asked him to wait. “I have been a 
prosecutor for 25 years. I’ve never been accused of anything.”Davitt said his email was flooded for weeks accusing 
him of retaliation in filing the charges. “They put my name out denouncing me . . . It’s true the filing came several 
months after that, but the investigative meeting we had with Green came before the civil filing.”
Regarding the appeals court decision, Davitt said, “I’m disappointed it was remanded. The court made a point of 
saying there was no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct. We brought the charges and felt it was the right thing to do.”

Sunday, January 6, 2019

PRINCE GEORGE’S OFFICERS OF COLOR FILE FEDERAL LAWSUIT CHALLENGING WIDESPREAD RACE DISCRIMINATION, RETALIATION BY PGPD

https://www.aclu-md.org/en/press-releases/prince-georges-officers-color-file-federal-lawsuit-challenging-widespread-race

December 12, 2018

GREENBELT, MD – After years of being forced to endure a work environment pervaded by race discrimination and retaliation that also contaminate relationships between police and the community, 13 Officers of Color with the Prince George’s Police Department (PGPD), along with the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association and the United Black Police Officers Association, today filed suit in federal court in Greenbelt challenging PGPD’s pattern and practice of unconstitutional conduct. Their lawsuit, filed with the support of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (WLC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland, and Arnold & Porter, asks the court to find these PGPD policies and practices unlawful, to mandate comprehensive reforms, and to provide justice to the officers and community members who have experienced this egregious mistreatment. 
“I had high expectations when I joined the department, but very early in my career I had a “MeToo” experience – I was sexually harassed by my white Field Training Officer,” said Sonya Lancaster, Member of the United Black Police Officers Association. “My complaint was sustained, but that is when the retaliation began against me. I have been targeted, blackballed, retaliated against and made an outcast because I spoke up against the mishandling of internal investigations and biased treatment against people who filed complaints on white officers. I spoke up when I saw African Americans fired and disciplined without just cause, while white officers who engaged in real misconduct were promoted up the ranks over and over again. I took an oath to serve my community not to be part of the police department in wrongdoing.”
The discrimination and retaliation within the Prince George’s County Police Department are entrenched and systemic. This longstanding failure of leadership in the PGPD has worsened under Chief Henry Stawinski, allowing dominance by white officials, fostering racist conduct and retaliation against officers and community members of color, and undermining the effectiveness of the department to serve a community whose residents are 80 percent Black and Latinx. These issues are longstanding and part of the culture of the PGPD. Despite having been put on notice of discriminatory practices, Chief Stawinski has nurtured an environment where racist conduct that is unacceptable in today’s society is allowed to persist and flourish. White officers are let off the hook for misconduct against the community, while Officers of Color face serious consequences in retaliation for taking a stand against abuse.  This racist and corrosive culture has further eroded public trust in the police and undermined public safety in Prince George’s County.
“To this day, the current administration has continued to retaliate against those who raise concerns by vilifying complainants, arranging unwanted transfers, and sending a clear message throughout the agency that this is what happens when concerns of racial bias and inequity are raised,” said Joe Perez, President of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Officers Association. “Over the past three years, the police department has lost the ability to fairly and impartially investigate its own and fully protect the community.  Our hope is that this litigation along with the Department of Justice complaint will spark much-needed positive change.”
“It feels like white police leaders in Prince George’s say, ‘what can I do to break you? To set you up and drive you out of the department?’ We formed the United Black Police Officers Association because our members were not treated fairly,” said Thomas Boone, President of the United Black Police Officers Association. “But the lawsuit we brought today is not about just the officers. It’s about the community as well. When citizens file complaints they need to be equally investigated, treated fairly, and appropriate disciplinary action needs to be taken. We are calling on the Prince George’s Police Department to enact fair policies and procedures, and we believe an immediate change in leadership at the department is needed.”
The Officers assert that PGPD should be focused on proactively reforming itself to end racially biased policing and unconstitutional practices.  That reform is undermined when officers who speak up about racist attitudes and actions within the police force experience reprisals instead of positive action. The reforms sought through the lawsuit include, 1) enhancement of policies prohibiting racial discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, 2) appointment of an independent monitor to oversee reforms, and 3) appropriate discipline imposed against officers who engage in discriminatory actions.
“There must be justice for Officers of Color who blow the whistle on racist policing practices that violate the rights of the Black and Brown residents so often targeted by over-policing and brutality,” said Dana Vickers Shelley, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maryland. “Any police department that fosters a culture of racial harassment and retaliation against Officers of Color within its ranks cannot hope to gain the community trust necessary to achieve better public safety. Officers who speak out against misconduct and racism should be praised not punished.” 
 “We ask officers to serve their communities justly and without bias. They are entitled to the same in the workplace,” said Jonathan M. Smith, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil rights and Urban Affairs. “Despite the culture of retaliation within the Prince George’s Police Department, the officers bringing this suit are courageous in stepping forward to take a stand against the racism that infects the Department. They are determined to make the department transparent, accountable and responsive to officers of color and the community.” 
The plaintiffs are represented by John Freedman, Peter Grossi, Jr., Adam Pergament, Titalayo Rasaki, Matthew Lanahan, and Matthew Horton from Arnold & Porter; Jonathan Smith and Dennis Corkery from the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs, and Deborah Jeon from the ACLU of Maryland.
Learn more online at: www.aclu-md.org or www.washlaw.org.
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Friday, January 4, 2019

Important Member Information

Dear Members,

As many of you are aware, the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association (HNLEA) and the United Black Police Officers Association (UBPOA) filed a complaint with the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Employment Litigation (DOJ) and filed a lawsuit.  We have retained the legal services of the ACLU of Maryland, the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights & Urban affairs and Arnold & Porter.  Our legal team is working with the DOJ and has investigated a number of issues facing our members for the lawsuit as well as for DOJ.

Some of our members are reporting additional acts of retaliation since the lawsuit has been filed.  In light of these complaints and the volume of recent phone calls and emails from involved/interested parties, we have notified our council. Our attorneys would like to speak with our members who have witnessed or experienced acts of discrimination or have been retaliated against as a result of our current lawsuit.  Please contact Samantha Springer at the Washington Lawyers Committee at 202- 319-1000 or via email @ samantha_stringer@washlaw.org.

We encourage you to contact our attorneys as soon as you can as we move to the next step in our efforts for change.  They are scheduling interviews next week.  Speaking with an attorney does not mean that you have to be a part of a lawsuit or that the lawyers can represent you directly. The lawyers will be able to answer any questions about what role you might play in the lawsuit.

In addition, if you have additional questions or concerns please feel free to contact me directly via 240-244-9189 or @ president@hnlea.com

All information received will be forwarded to the DOJ through our council.  Personal information will not be released other than to the Department of Justice and/or the legal team.

Be safe!