By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
In December of 2015, Pocomoke city resident Gerry Fitch was summoned from her jail cell in the Worcester County Detention Center by investigators for Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt.
Fitch was serving time for drug possession. So, she was uncertain as to why detectives who normally probe corruption with the state officials were interested in speaking to her.
But when they started asking her about an alleged relationship with the former and first African-American chief of Pocomoke City, Kelvin Sewell, she said she was confused.
“It was an urban myth, they said, that I was supposedly pregnant by chief Sewell when I was arrested,” Fitch said in an interview with the Real News Network.
“But It wasn’t true.”
The interview was part of a wide-ranging investigation against Sewell after he was fired by the Pocomoke city council without explanation.
The ongoing saga added a new twist last week, when the Maryland Court of special appeals overturned his conviction of misconduct in office by a Worcester jury in 2016.
The charges were brought by Davitt based upon an investigation of a 2014 accident involving two parked cars in which prosecutors convinced a nearly all-White jury Sewell should have charged the driver.
But in an opinion issued Nov. 29, the court ruled that Worcester County judge’s decision to bar Sewell from calling expert witnesses prejudiced the jury.
In an explosive dissenting opinion Judge Dan Friedman said there was not enough evidence to prove Sewell had committed misconduct, and state prosecutor Emmet Davitt should be barred from trying to case again.
“It is my view that the State has failed to prove any intent at all, let alone a corrupt one,” Friedman wrote.
Despite the setback, in an email to the AFRO, Davitt said his office is more than likely to retry the case.
“After reviewing the appellate court decision and speaking to the victims of the accident, it is very likely that we will retry case. Just need to double check availability and status of witnesses,” Davitt said.
However, he would not commit or confirm on Fitch’s recounting of her encounter investigators.
The possibility that Davitt may retry the case prompted criticism from State Senator Jill P. Carter.
“The entire case smacks of racism and retaliation. I hope the state prosecutor will not expend any more state funds trying to secure a conviction on such flimsy evidence,” State Senator Jill P. Carter told the AFRO.
The court’s high-profile decision casts doubt on an investigation into Sewell, which initiated after he had filed EEOC complaints against the city of Pocomoke and Worcester County State’s Attorneys’ office. It also adds weight to the accusations of retaliation that have surfaced since Sewell was fired by the Pocomoke City Council in 2015 after he refused to terminate two Black officers who had also filed EEOC complaints.
State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt indicted Sewell in 2016 for failing to charge a driver who had struck two parked cars in 2014.
The charges allege Sewell had failed to cite Pocomoke resident Doug Matthews for leaving the scene of an accident. Prosecutors alleged Sewell had let Matthews go because both were members of an African-American Masons chapter on the Eastern Shore.
But the court ruled that Sewell and Matthew’s membership “was not competent to prove that Sewell acted with corrupt intent.” A lack of evidence the judges argued made the expert witness testimony critical to Sewell’s case.
During the trial Sewell sought to call two policing experts to refute Davitt’s assertion his decision to charge Matthews was unusual. But the judge ruled that expert testimony would confuse the jury and barred Sewell from calling them.
But a main point of contention during the trial was the involvement of the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s office in the investigation. In court filings Sewell’s attorneys argued the case was retaliation for filing EEOC discrimination complaints against Worcester County.
As proof, his defense cited emails between Davitt’s office and Worcester County prosecutors which revealed the case against Sewell originated with the same Worcester County agency he had filed an EEOC complaint against.
The murky origin of the charges and the court’s decision is already prompting calls for Davitt to drop the case.
One group, The Caucus of African-American Leaders, plans to send an open letter to Davitt asking him not to retry the case.
“What we hope would look at the entire the circumstance and take into account that race and racism has played a factor in this case and they will drop the case as a result of it,” said Carl Snowden, who works with the group.
(full disclosure this reporter co-wrote a book with Sewell).