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  February 8, 2017

Behind the Scenes of the Investigation of Pocomoke's 1st Black Police Chief

Recently unsealed court documents reveal defendants in Kelvin Sewell's discrimination lawsuit worked closely with state prosecutors to produce charges against the former Baltimore homicide supervisor
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TAYA GRAHAM: When a man looks into his past, can he find the moment when the path he chose changed not only his life, but that of an entire community? It's a question we all face, but for one man, this question cuts more deeply.

His name is Kelvin Sewell, a former Baltimore City homicide detective. Nearly five years ago, he left the Baltimore Police Department to travel to Maryland's lower eastern shore, where he became Chief of Police of the small town of Pocomoke. For four years he walked the streets and got to know the people. Crime went down. But then he was fired amid allegations of racism. His dismissal revealed a deep divide in the community.

MAN: The government here seems to think that they have all the power. The citizens have no say. And whatever they say is going to happen is going to happen, and we have nothing to say about it. They think they rule and regulate everything in this city.

WOMAN: He is going about policing a different way, to make them feel comfortable, and tell them that you can change, you can get out of this lifestyle if you want to. And, I mean, he's even helped some people to get jobs. I mean, the man is... he was out there helping people. And he locked them up when they had to, you know, 'cause some people you can try to help, but you can't help everybody.

TAYA GRAHAM: Sewell filed a lawsuit alleging he was let go for refusing to fire two black officers who had filed discrimination complaints against the Worcester County Drug Task Force. The Justice Department joined the suit, but then six months later, he was indicted. State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt charged him for allegedly interfering in a 2014 accident investigation involving two parked cars. After a one-day trial, Sewell was convicted on one count.

MAN: We... my office has the mandate to look at political corruption, election law and misconduct in office, and that's why we're involved in this case, and we feel whenever it's an abuse of power by a police officer, something needs to be done. People need to be accounted.

TAYA GRAHAM: The judge would not allow Sewell to call an expert witness or question the credibility of two officers who testified against him, which is where the question about choices and the path where they lead becomes relevant. Because after the trial, Sewell's lawyer appealed and through that process documents released by the court tell a story.

The documents show the investigation of Sewell didn't start after the accident in 2014, or when someone complained about it, but after he filed discrimination charges against Worcester County and Pocomoke and made a phone call to Dabitt's office.

In June of 2015, just before Sewell was fired, one of his officers found a note on his car. It said someone had planted drugs on him for filing discrimination complaints. Sewell wanted a drug-sniffing dog to check. The investigator declined to help. But shortly after they hung up, the investigator made a call to several friends working on the lower eastern shore, not to look into Sewell's concerns, but to investigate him.

The detective collected rumors about Sewell from a variety of sources. One of them was the Worcester County State's Attorney's Office, who had been the subject of an EEOC(?) complaint filed by Sewell. From there, a sweeping investigation ensued. They examined the car stop involving Sewell after he was fired. They talked to former officers under his command, searching for leads. They scrutinized his relationships with people in the community, one of whom was Geri Fitch(?), a former drug suspect who recounted multiple encounters with the police asking questions about Sewell, and if he had sex with her.

GERI FITCH: Uh... three sheriffs put me off to the side in a separate room and questioned me, not only about Chief Sewell, but about Lieutenant Green and Officer Savitch(?), if I had had any sexual relationships with them or if I knew of any crooked things that they were into.

TAYA GRAHAM: She was asked this again during a visit by the same state investigators in December of 2015, and she answered the questions about her sex life from her jail cell. But Fitch denied the allegations, even though she says she was offered a more lenient sentence.

STEPHEN JANIS: When... what did they say after you said...

GERI FITCH: Are you sure? That was... I know that was repeated about five times. And... because one hand can wash the other. That was the main thing that stuck in my head was that one hand can wash the other.

STEPHEN JANIS: What did they mean by that?

GERI FITCH: Because I was going to be charged with possession of CDS, well, I was subsequently charged with possession of CDS.

STEPHEN JANIS: And what... why... now, just... I'm wondering, you know, it could've been an easy way out for you. Why didn't you take it?

GERI FITCH: Because it wasn't true. It wasn't true.

TAYA GRAHAM: So they came up empty-handed until Worcester County State's Attorney Beau Ogilvy's office supplied four traffic cases, including the incident that led to Sewell's indictment and conviction, which marked the end of the road for Sewell's career as cop.

We asked Worcester State's Attorney and State Prosecutor Emmet Dabitt for comment. They declined. For now, Sewell's appeal to higher court is pending. But for now the path he chose seems destined to continue to inflict pain upon him, his family and the community he embraced.

This Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.

For full disclosure, Stephen Janis wrote a book about policing with Kelvin Sewell.




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