Pocomoke’s First Black Police Chief Convicted of Misconduct
TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: This Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Worchester County, Maryland.
I’m standing outside the Worchester County Courthouse where the jury has just delivered the verdict in the case of Kelvin Sewell, Pocomoke city’s first black police chief who is charged with corruption and misconduct in office.
I’m here with Stephen Janis to tell me about what happened in the courtroom today. Stephen, what just happened inside?
STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: Well the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the charge of misconduct in office or interfering with an investigation and not guilt with regards to a conspiracy between himself and lieutenant Green. So basically the jury said that Kelvin Sewell interfered with an accident investigation involved Pocomoke resident Doug Matthews. So they basically came to the conclusion based upon the evidence that he did interfere in an accident that the person who was involved in this accident should’ve been charged with something I guess or somehow benefited from Chief Sewell’s intervention. Maybe that he should’ve gotten a citation or something specific. So, they have just returned the guilty verdict on 1 of 2 counts.
GRAHAM: When we were in the courtroom we heard the closing arguments and we saw that the prosecution took a great deal of time to point out the difference in the officers testimonies. Do you think that was key in the jury’s decision?
JANIS: Well there was a conflict because I would say the key to this case was a testimony of two of Sewell’s subordinates. Both officers were at the accident. One had started the investigation. One who later assumed the investigation and Chief Sewell testified himself on his own behalf and said both officers kind of implied that Chief Sewell directed the investigation to a junior officer who was on probation. Who of course wouldn’t – I guess would be more susceptible to his influence. They also implied that he told them hey, this is just an accident. Don’t ask any questions about whether he’s drunk or not, this is just an accident. So, I think both officers, their testimony was probably the lynchpin of this case.
And Chief Sewell said that he flat out said they lied and yes really the prosecution did that specifically. So, the jurors must’ve believed the two officers over the Chief in terms of what was said and what was done.
GRAHAM: Now Chief Sewell described and as well as his attorneys described something called post integrity which is the reason he said he explained as to why he directed officer Barnes to handle the case of the car accident. Can you tell us a little bit about post integrity.
JANIS: Yea post integrity is that basically the officer who is posted will assume any investigation or any sort of thing that happens in their sector. So Pocomoke City is divided into two sectors, north and south, and one officer – the junior officer who was on probation who the prosecutor said would be more susceptible to influence was in the south where this accident occurred. So, Chief Sewell explained that he assigned this officer the case because it was for sector.
The prosecution alleged that he gave it to her for other reasons other than that. So, one of the things that’s interesting today is the origin in this case, one of the big, big pictures, the big elephant in the room was the fact that Sewell has alleged discrimination that EEOC has found that he was discriminated against when he was fired 2 years ago. So, that was sort of a big big part of this case that wasn’t really brought into the courtroom. But especially today because we asked Emmet Davitt, who is a prosecutor, about how this case originated when it originated. It’s interesting what he said. Let’s listen to what he had to say.
You were going to tell us about when this investigation was initiated during the trial?
EMMIT DAVITT: Yea sure, you know, and I can certainly directly 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 that didn’t seem to add up. He then left the department. The new interim chief came. There was a series of complaints, they called repeatedly asking us to get involved in the investigation. We came down a became involved.
JANIS: Was that [inaud.] who asked you or was it anybody?
DAVITT: No, that was the interim police chief that took over.
JANIS: Oh he asked you?
DAVITT: He asked us to repeatedly.
REPORTER: That’s Chief Bill Harden?
DAVITT: No, that was the interim chief before that, I believe.
JANIS: The state police chief.
DAVITT: Yea interim chief Starner. Then our entire investigation was to come down and talk to all the police officers. Talk to all the investigators. We talked to every police officer we could talk to down there and came to the determinations we did.
REPORTER: Did you believe justice was served councilor?
DAVITT: I do. I do absolutely. Okay. Thank you gentlemen.
GRAHAM: What do you think of what prosecutor Emmet Davitt had to say?
JANIS: Well it’s interesting because I think one of the questions many people have asked about this case is, is it retaliatory because it happened after the lawsuit. But Emmet Davitt claims it started when the new chief was installed.
GRAHAM: The interim chief Starner correct?
JANIS: Yea he was the chief who was part of the state police who its interesting because the discrimination complaints that Sewell filed, not Sewell but Sewell’s subordinate which started off as Frank Savage file which was against members of the Worchester County task force who include state police. So, it’s very interesting that this case originated with someone who’s part of the state police. But you know I think at this point the jury has spoken so it’ll be an issue, we’ll see what happens.
There’s a lot of things that happened in the preliminary parts of this case that I think are really going to be an issue later on. I would imagine if there’s any appeal like the fact that Sewell’s not allowed to have an expert witness for example. He wasn’t allowed to bring up the disciplinary records of the officers who testified against him which of course is relevant. But you know right now it’s a jury verdict and I think one thing that you talked about quite a bit when we were in the courtroom was this is going to end his career.
This is a man who served for 30 years. Now I wrote a book with Kelvin Sewell so I have to be full disclosure about that, that I have some relationship with him. But he’s served Baltimore city as a homicide detective. He served Baltimore City as a narcotics detective, worked in the DEA. I mean you can give me your impression but when you talk to people about him in Pocomoke, what was your impression about the job he did in Pocomoke?
GRAHAM: When I spoke to people in Pocomoke City, they told me one of the things that they loved about their police chief and many of the people I spoke to loved their police chief, they mentioned that he was available to them at all hours. That they could call him on his cellphone and they could have the chief of police answer and to actually come to their house and talk to them about what was going on, what they needed him for. So the fact that they could call the chief of police on their cellphone I think was unique and something that he could do for Pocomoke that they really appreciated and also that he took time to actually interact with the community.
One of the things I was told was about a Halloween celebration where he would have the kids come to the police station, get candy. They would drive with their police cars, with the sirens on, hand out candy to the kids and that he also had a day where he would bring kids into the police station, take one of the kids, put the chief of police hat on them and say hey you guys, this could be the chief of police.
So there was a lot of interaction with the kids and with the families in Pocomoke City.
JANIS: Which is why I think the community after the verdict or at least reverend James Jones who has been a supporter of chief Sewell, still continues to support him. Let’s listen to what he had to say.
JAMES JONES: I believe that someone felt that they just had to make a statement so they found one in favor and the other not. Here’s a person that has given over 30 years of honorable service to the state of Maryland both the western shore and here. And to be judged because they made a call that they were allowed to make, I feel is unjust. Then two, we’re not going to throw race at the people but to look at a jury and not be a jury of his peers, 12 jurists and one African American juror, I felt that that was a disadvantage but because of the representation that he received I still felt good about what the outcome would be.
JANIS: Well you saw the evidence. You think that the evidence added up to corruption?
JONES: No. Not by any means.
GRAHAM: One of the things that was brought up was that chief Sewell could have an appeal but one of the things that he would have to appeal on was whether or not the jury represented his peers. Now the jury composition was majority white. There was only one African American juror. You think that will have an y effect on the appeals process?
JANIS: Well you know that gets in the issue that I think has defined this case from the beginning which is race. People in places like Worchester County in the United States are raised differently. I would think listen to what Reverend Jones said to us, there were no African Americans on the jury except for one and he believes that that had an effect. You know Kelvin alleged discrimination and the USC said he was discriminated against and the Justice Department has said it. But people in Worchester County obviously don’t feel the same way or a lot of people in Pocomoke do not feel that he suffered discrimination so that could be a key contention, especially give the context of the racial background of this.
If you didn’t have the EEOC ruling that he was discriminated against, if you didn’t have the federal government, if you didn’t have the allegations of discrimination, then I think maybe. But with that and what has occurred in Worchester County and how this case came about, I think yes that would be a consideration both the jury and the prosecutors itself.
GRAHAM: Now one thing that we both covered the Freddie Gray trial where 6 police officers were on trial for the death of Freddie Gray. Now do you see any sort of parallels between those police officers being on trial and these police officers being on trial?
JANIS: Well to me it’s sort of a contrast. To me to have all these resources and it’s kind of interesting or difficult to understand why an accident where 2 parked cars were hit.
GRAHAM: Simple property damage.
JANIS: Would suddenly come into the privy of the state prosecutor or the state of Maryland. With the Freddie Gray case, it was a man who died, a city that convulsed. Horrible consequences. Here it’s really difficult because as you pointed out during the trial that the cars were repaired. An accident report was filed. Insurance covered the accident. So it is something that I guess for us in places like Baltimore, it’s always difficult to understand what a crime means, or what a crime is or why people pursue something and why they don’t pursue something because it’s just so hard to understand an accident that occurred 2 years ago has suddenly become an issue in 2016.
GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Worchester County, Maryland.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a
recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.