Pocomoke Mayor Discusses Firing Black Police Chief as ACLU Says City Can’t Bar Press

The mayor of Pocomoke speaks publicly for the first time on the controversy surrounding the firing of the town’s first black police chief as the ACLU says Real News Reporters were illegally banned from council meeting

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Story Transcript

TAYA GRAHAM, CORRESPONDENT, TRNN: My name is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Pocomoke City. We’re here covering the continuing controversy over the firing of popular police chief Kelvin Sewell. Here at Salem Methodist Church residents have gathered to show their support for the city council and for their mayor, Bruce Morrison.

Residents arrived at the Salem Methodist Church Thursday evening to sign a letter of support for Mayor Bruce Morrison. The veteran politician has been nationally criticized since the termination of police chief Kelvin Sewell amid allegations he was let go because he refused to fire two black officers who filed EOC discrimination complaints against Somerset County drug unit.

The United States Department of Justice has also stepped into the fray telling residents last week that they were investigation not just Sewell’s termination but allegations that federal grant monies had been misappropriated, and a council election for the city’s fourth district was illegally canceled.

SPEAKER: There are already processes in the works it turns out looking at the chief’s termination, and looking at some of the other issues that, the voting irregularities that were mentioned earlier.

GRAHAM: But Robert [Calgert] Jr., who organized the event, says the allegations are just that.

ROBERT [CALGERT] JR.: The residents of this town believe in, we elected all of these councilmen to represent us. And we want to make sure that they understand that we’re behind them, and we want you to run the town like it’s supposed to be run, run the policies, run the procedures. And then when the investigations are done, then that’s how things will turn out.

GRAHAM: Which is why he was asking residents to sign this document: a symbol of support for the mayor, and a call for patience as the investigations unfold.

CALGERT: Unfortunately I think a lot of the people feel, and don’t take this the wrong way, but I think they feel like the news media is trying to turn it into another Ferguson or Baltimore. And that’s absolutely what we do not want down here.

GRAHAM: But as residents arrived, so did Mayor Morrison himself. He has yet to speak publicly on any of the controversy which has embroiled the town that bills itself as the friendliest on the Eastern shore.

SPEAKER: It’s not a petition. It’s not anything like that. It’s a letter of support that’s saying the citizens of Pocomoke stand behind the mayor and council for the decision they have made.

GRAHAM: So we asked him why he fired the chief.

MAYOR OF POCOMOKE CITY, BRUCE MORRISON: I will not talk about that.

STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: Why can’t you talk about it?

MORRISON: I will not talk about it.

JANIS: Okay.

MORRISON: It’s a personnel issue that I’m not at–anybody knows the laws of the state in Maryland and probably most every state, that the, this is a personnel issue, and this is always a personnel issue. And that’s all I will say about it.

GRAHAM: But also about his decision to ban the media from a heated city council meeting two weeks ago.

JANIS: Can you explain that decision, for not letting the media–.

MORRISON: Not on the air.

JANIS: Not on the air.

GRAHAM: He declined to answer either question. But he did say the events of the past weeks have affected him deeply.

MORRISON: It really hurt me. I mean, you can probably talk to my wife, she knows what I’ve been going through. It’s been very, very hard for our family. And like I said, I don’t–to be accused of something I’m not, I’ve always been a friendly person. I speak to everyone. I’ve been a good–I’ve been a good mayor. I feel I’ve done a lot for this town in the last four years. I’ve been a councilman for six years, a mayor for four years. I feel like I’ve taken Pocomoke to another level.

GRAHAM: And that Pocomoke has been unfairly represented by the media as a town with deep racial divisions.

MORRISON: I don’t think there is. If you just saw the person come through here a while ago, was the reverend from one of our local churches here. And he stood here and hugged me and thanked me, and says, you know, I’m here to help, whatever I can do. So you know, I’m not one-sided. I am not. I am for all the people of Pocomoke City is what my job is to do, and I will continue to do that job. Work for all the people.

GRAHAM: Meanwhile today, the ACLU sent a letter to contest the banning of myself and Real News investigative reporter Stephen Janis from that heated council meeting last week. The letter characterized the mayor’s decision as a violation of the state’s Open Meeting act, and the First Amendment. We called the mayor for comment, but have yet to hear back.

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

This is Taya Graham with Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Pocomoke City, Maryland.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.