Board Rules Pocomoke City Council Violated Open Meetings Act

Story Transcript

TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: Since the city of Pocomoke fired Police Chief Kelvin Sewell for reasons they still won’t talk about, there’s been little positive news for the man who left a 20-year career in Baltimore City to take over the department of the small, Eastern Shore town in 2010. But two weeks ago a glimmer of hope.

In New Berlin, Maryland, the NAACP of Worcester County gathered to honor Sewell for his work for lowering crime in Pocomoke to historic lows.

KELVIN SEWELL: On my watch as chief of police, I’m proud to report that we have not had one homicide [inaud.]. And I’m proud of that [figure.].

GRAHAM: On hand was Congresswoman, now Senate candidate, Donna Edwards. During the ceremony she emphasized the struggle for justice that is still ongoing in communities of color throughout the state.

DONNA EDWARDS: And I think that that is the message about injustice. I suppose that we could whine about it a lot. But the NAACP knows and all of you here know that the thing that we need to do the most is to dig up from underneath it. To climb overtop of it. And to knock away the barriers to justice.

GRAHAM: And that struggle appears to continue in Pocomoke as city officials yesterday fired Frank Savage, the second black officer to be let go since June. Savage was one of two officers who filed an EEOC complaint against the Worcester County drug task force. In it he alleged discrimination, including texts with the n-word, food stamps left on his desk with the face of President Barack Obama, and a dead deer tail left on his car window–a complaint which was sustained.

CONNIE PARKS: My son, detective. Good, excellent job. But you know what, when he started being called nigger, because nobody likes that ugly word, he complained. And when he complained–he had to come back, he had to work. Because he felt like he was working in a hostile workplace. And who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t? Who wants to be called nigger on the job as a police officer?

GRAHAM: Savage’s employment was also precisely the reason Sewell’s attorney alleged he was let go, after he refused to fire Det. Savage at the urging of city officials. The dismissal comes shortly after the city suffered its first homicide since 2010, a domestic dispute outside a liquor store that ended with the stabbing and killing of 25-year-old Derrick Collick. During the four and a half years as Sewell’s tenure as police chief, there were no homicides. And Sewell gives the credit to his officers engaging in community policing.

SEWELL: My goal was to have the officers get out of the cars and walk foot patrol, and get to know the community.

GRAHAM: And homicide was not the only serious crime to have [flipped] the small city on the Eastern Shore. Earlier this month, 61-year-old Clarence William Cropper was charged with raping a juvenile on October 10. On October 22, Pocomoke Police Chief Bill Harden told the Real News he knew nothing about the same crime. An apparent practice of keeping the public out of the loop that has since caught the attention of the state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board, which last week ruled the council violated the law when it barred reporters from a meeting in July, even though the board said two secret meetings held to fire Sewell were not technically covered by the Open Meetings Act.

It’s an ongoing controversy in a town that has now seen a surge in crime, and frustration among African-American residents who say they are tired of not knowing what’s going on in their own backyard.

RONNIE WHITE: 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 rule and regulate everything in this city.

GRAHAM: We asked city manager Ernie Crofoot and Mayor Bruce Morrison for comment. Crofoot revealed some details regarding both Sewell and Savage’s termination in an email, where he wrote: “It was my decision to fire Savage,” adding he was not fired for disciplinary reasons.

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

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