Civil Rights Groups Say Black Police Chief Targeted for Filing Discrimination Complaint

In amicus court filings supporting an appeal of former Pocomoke Chief Kelvin Sewell’s misconduct conviction, a variety of organizations argue he was prosecuted in retaliation for filing racial discrimination complaints against Worcester County officials.

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Story Transcript

Taya Graham: This is Taya Graham, reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. I’m standing outside the Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office, the agency that nearly two years ago launched a criminal probe into the life of Kelvin D. Sewell, Pocomoke City’s first black police chief.

But, with an appeal pending before the state’s highest court, key groups are stepping up to raise questions about what went on inside this building.

Since the trial of then-Chief Kelvin Sewell for failing to charge a driver who hit two parked cars in Pocomoke in 2014, there have been doubts about the case among his supporters.

Stephen Janis: You saw the evidence. You think the evidence added up to corruption?

Rev. James Jones: No. No, not by any means. Not by any means. Not even over-exercising his authority. They tried to say that they could not do anything with the corruption, but they felt that he exercised his authority too strongly, but he didn’t.

Taya Graham: Concerns that the investigation was retaliation for Sewell following EEOC complaints against a variety of Worcester County officials, alleging discrimination after he was fired without explanation in 2015. Sewell was convicted of one count of misconduct for failing to charge the driver who hit cars with leaving the scene of an accident.

The driver had driven his car two blocks after the collision to his home where he called police. When we asked Maryland State Prosecutor, Emmet Davitt, about the source of his charges, he said Sewell’s replacement had tipped him off about the accident.

Stephen Janis: You were going to tell us about when this case was initiated during the trial?

Emmet Davitt: Yeah, sure, and I can certainly direct you now. It’s a matter of public record. There’s all kinds of motions where the whole investigation is laid out if you go to the court files, so I’m not trying to blow off your question, but basically, it was initiated when Chief Kelvin Sewell called our office making complaints about others. Things didn’t seem to add up. He then left the department. The new interim chief came. There was a series of complaints. We were called, repeatedly, asking us to get involved in the investigation. We came down and became involved.

Stephen Janis: Was that Beau Oglesby who asked you, or was it anybody …

Emmet Davitt: No that was the interim Police Chief that took over.

Taya Graham: But documents obtained by the Real News revealed the person who actually gave Davitt the case was Worcester County States Attorney, Beau Oglesby. The subject of Sewell’s EEOC discrimination complaint. Which is, perhaps, why several groups including Howard university Civil Rights Law Clinic, the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers and the ACLU have filed amicus briefs supporting Sewell’s appeals before a hearing in December.

The brief describes how emails obtained from Davitt show the investigators launched a wide range of investigation of Sewell after he was fired, including allegations that he traded liquor for favors, and tried to seduce a 75 year old grandmother.

Davitt said in court that he had no contact with Oglesby during the investigation, but it was in fact Oglesby who gave Davitt the case. In this email, which the Worcester County States Attorney actually sent the documents outlining his theory to Davitt’s office. But the brief also reveals the unprecedented nature of Davitt’s decision to pursue Sewell.

Records obtained by the ACLU revealed that Oglesby had never investigated a police officer for discretion. In fact, Davitt also never pursued an officer after retirement.

Debbie Jeon: It is really unusual, as far as we can determine, for the State Prosecutor to charge police officers with police misconduct. That’s the first thing. But it also is our understanding that this prosecution originated with the defendants in our civil rights case.

Taya Graham: We asked Davitt for comment, and he said to us that Sewell’s lieutenant Lionel Green told investigators that they had let the driver go because he was a Mason. However, lieutenant Green denies Davitt’s version of events. For now, Sewell awaits his day in court, his future uncertain.

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