By Stephen Janis and Taya Graham
Special to the AFRO

The city of Pocomoke has entered a consent decree with its former Black police chief, who alleged discrimination when he was fired abruptly in 2015.  

The agreement, which was filed in federal court earlier this month, calls for the city to formally end discriminatory practices that were the subject of a successful lawsuit filed by former Chief Kelvin Sewell and two other black officers.

The consent decree comes shortly after the city and state of Maryland agreed to pay roughly $650,000 to settle the suit with Sewell and his Lt. Lynell Green.  A separate agreement with former Pocomoke officer Frank Savage, who is African-American and also alleged discrimination, has not yet been made public.

Former Pocomoke Police Chief Kelvin Sewell. (Courtesy Photo)

“I’m very happy our efforts to bring about real change in Pocomoke are happening,” Sewell told the AFRO.   “This has been a difficult struggle, but the point has always been helping the people who come after me and to improve the lives of all residents.”

The decree requires the city to create a plan within 120 days, which will establish a process for employees to file discrimination complaints.  The city also has to implement a formal policy to bar retaliation against any employee who makes allegations of racial bias. Mandatory training for employees to educate them on the new policies is also part of the agreement.   

Sewell was fired in July of 2015 after he refused to terminate both Savage and Green.  The lawsuit recounts how the city council pressured Sewell to fire both officers after Savage had filed a discrimination complaint against the Worcester County Drug Task Force.  When Sewell refused, he was let go by the council during a closed-door session.

The abrupt dismissal was controversial for the racially divided small town on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore.  

Many of the city’s African American residents, roughly 50 percent of Pocomoke’s population, lauded Sewell for successfully implementing a community policing program. They credited his tenure with lower crime and improving relations between the department and the community.

But, the predominantly White city council said Sewell had been terminated for cause. However, during a series of contentious public meetings the council refused to divulge why Sewell was fired. The city’s response to the lawsuit did not reveal any additional details regarding the council’s motive for firing Sewell.

The settlement marks another chapter in a long ordeal for Sewell, which is far from over.

The Maryland State Prosecutor’s office has pursued Sewell for four years over the aftermath of a 2014 accident investigation involving two parked cars which occurred when he was chief.

In 2016, then State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt charged Sewell with misconduct in office for his role in the probe.  Davitt claimed Sewell interfered in the accident investigation to benefit a fellow Black member of the Masons, Pocomoke resident Doug Matthews.

Matthews struck the vehicles driving home in May of 2014, when he says he fell asleep at the wheel.  No one was injured as a result of the collision. Prosecutors argued Matthews should have been charged with leaving the scene of an accident because he drove three blocks home before calling police. 

But, the investigation, along with the decision not to charge Matthews did not come under scrutiny until after Sewell filed a federal EEOC discrimination complaint.  

Sewell’s supporters have questioned both the origin and timing of the case. According to emails released during the trial then Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby played a key role in the investigation, providing state investigators with the details of the 2014 accident. 

At the time, Oglesby was the subject of an EEOC complaint filed by Savage.  

Sewell was convicted of misconduct in 2016.  However, The Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned his conviction ruling he did not receive a fair trial.  Davitt retried the case in 2019 and Sewell was convicted again. Both juries were all White except for one Black juror for each trial.

Sewell is expected to appeal the most recent conviction.