By Stephen Janis and Taya Graham
Special to the AFRO

The hiring of a controversial city manager continues to roil Pocomoke City on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore, after Black residents raised new concerns over her tenure in a nearby city where a Black teen was killed by police.

Sources familiar with the hiring process say that after the AFRO published a story highlighting pushback from a local activist group about her appointment, City Manager Jennifer Delude told members of the Pocomoke City Council she would sever ties with the city.

Delude’s hiring prompted concerns due to her previous stint as the City Manager of Greensboro, Md., where the controversial death of Anton Black, an African American teen at the hands of police has continued to stoke tensions in that city also on the Lower Eastern Shore. 

(Courtesy Photo)

But, sources say several council members urged Delude to stay.  Asked specifically about the details surrounding her offer to turn down the job, Delude would not comment directly on what occurred, or confirm that she had in fact rescinded her acceptance of the position.

“My only comment on this would be that as a City Manager I am always looking out for the best interest of the City and its citizens,” Delude told the AFRO in an email.  

An email to several council members did not receive a response.

But, the council’s maneuvering outside public purview amid controversy comes as city leadership is under increased scrutiny after it settled a major discrimination lawsuit with its first Black police chief, Kelvin Sewell.  Sewell was let go behind closed doors in 2015 without explanation. The settlement included a consent decree that obliged the city to fix discriminatory hiring practices.  

Pastor Ronnie White, a member of the Citizens for a Better Pocomoke said he confronted the council during its monthly meeting Monday about the decree.  

“I asked them have you read the consent decree, if you read it how in the world could you hire this woman?,” White said. 

“It looks like to me the city is going backwards.” 

The city settled with Sewell in 2019, paying $450,000 in damages and agreeing to implement a series of reforms that would address discriminatory employment practices. 

Delude was city manager when Greensboro hired police officer Thomas Webster.  Webster was the officer that initiated the arrest of 19-year old Anton Black, which eventually lead to his death. 

Black was chased by police after a White woman called 911 claiming he had kidnapped a 12-year old boy. The alleged victim was his cousin. 

A video of Black’s initial encounter with police obtained by The AFRO shows Black and the boy walking side-by-side prior to being stopped. 

After Black fled, two White police officers and a civilian subsequently confronted the aspiring model and former track star at his mother’s home. There they forced him to the ground. Soon thereafter Black became unresponsive and was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. 

The state medical examiner ruled his death an accident. But Cyril Wecht, a noted independent pathologist consulted by the AFRO said he died from positional asphyxiation. Body camera footage shows one of the officers laying his body across Black’s as the 19-year old  was restrained near his home. 

The Caroline County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute any of the officers involved in Black’s death. 

Still, Black’s death continued to resonate across the Eastern Shore.  Former Talbot County NAACP President Richard Potter said he would attend the Pocomoke council meeting to demand transparency, calling on the council to vote on Delude’s alleged offer to withdraw in public.

“If she did the entire council must decide what to do,” said Potter, who also represents the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black. 

“It’s obvious they are stonewalling.”

The ACLU of Maryland has also weighed in.  Debbie Jeon, the organization’s legal director wrote a letter to the council calling the appointment ill-timed.  

“Especially at this moment, when Pocomoke City is finally confronting the consequences of its past racial discrimination and implementing a Consent Decree intended to bring reform, appointing a City Manager so recently complicit in this racially-charged scandal is of paramount concern to the Black community,“ Jeon wrote.