City’s First Black Police Chief Fired, Residents Want Him Back

By Sheryl Estrada

Residents of Pocomoke City, Md., are frustrated by the firing of their first Black police chief Kelvin Sewell almost two months ago and want answers.

Pocomoke City Mayor Bruce Morrison and other city officials say they are limited in publicly speaking about the issue as it is pending litigation.However, in a city council meeting on Aug. 3, Morrison told residents the reinstatement of Sewell would not happen.

“I don’t see that happening, bringing Chief Sewell back,” he said.

Pocomoke advertises itself as “The Friendliest Town on the Eastern Shore.” The majority of the city’s 4,000 plus residents are Black, yet the city council, which fired Sewell on June 29, is majority-white.

Sewell said he was dismissed for refusing the demands of city officials to fire two Black officers, Franklin L. Savage and Lynell Green. Both officers filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) saying they had been treated unfairly in a hostile work environment. The city denies the allegations.

According to the Washington Post, “Among the incidents alleged: a food stamp superimposed with President Obama’s face that was left on a black detective’s desk,” and he received a text message with racial epithets.

The attorney for the three officers, Andrew McBride, said that after filing with the EEOC and being questioned by city officials, Savage was placed on night duty, which he views as retaliation. Green is also still employed.

Following his retirement from the Baltimore Police Department, Sewell joined the Pocomoke City’s police department in 2010. He was promoted to chief in 2011.

Earlier this year, Sewell also filed a complaint with the EEOC stating he was paid much less than his predecessors and that he was not given a contract.He will now add his dismissal to the complaint.

“We emphatically deny the allegation that the chief’s separation resulted from a refusal on his part to terminate the officers,” City Attorney William Hudson said.

The Justice Department sent officials to a church gathering in Pocomoke City in July to speak with local leaders amidst allegations of racism.

In a press conference on July 24, the group Citizens for a Better Pocomoke said the police department collected mandatory signatures from officers on a document, which said they have no confidence in Sewell.

WMDT reports one of the officers, who remains anonymous, has withdrawn his signature because he was pressured into signing the document. The officer wrote in a letter to the mayor and city council that on June 18 Detective Joe Bailey came to his home and told him someone in the city council came up with the idea of a no confidence vote.

Baily advised him, “The letter needs to be signed today.” Rev. Ronnie White of the House of Love Christian Center, one of the pastors representing the group, said he has a copy of the letter.

At the Aug. 3 city council meeting, White spoke about the effect Sewell’s firing is having on the community.

“The integrity and reputation of our community is our utmost concern, and we feel [it] has been greatly compromised, … ” he said. “This act has destabilized our community and now brought about division.”

Councilwoman Diane Downing, the only Black council member, told WMDT there are race problems both in the city and on the council. She believes council members are trying to remove her from office because she did not agree with Sewell’s firing.

“I don’t feel it’s a race problem in Pocomoke,” Mayor Morrison said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people on both sides and they agree.”

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