By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
Governor Larry Hogan’s appointment of a judge embroiled in a high-profile discrimination lawsuit has prompted pushback from state leaders and sparked criticism from a possible campaign opponent.
Last month Hogan tapped Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby to fill a vacancy on the circuit court bench.
Last month Hogan tapped Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby to fill a vacancy on the circuit court bench. (Courtesy Photo)
In 2016 The Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office was the subject of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed by former Pocomoke police officer Frank Savage, chief, Kelvin Sewell and Lt. Lynell Green alleging retaliation. Savage also filed a grievance against Oglesby for repeatedly reading the N-word during a meeting he attended. Although Oglesby claimed the word was included in a letter written by a suspect which he read aloud as part of an investigation.
Oglesby did not return calls for comment.
All the allegations are part of a broader federal discrimination lawsuit filed by Sewell, Savage and Green, which was joined by the Department of Justice. The lawsuit claims Oglesby’s office played a role in retaliating against Savage after he complained about a hostile work environment on a Worcester County Drug task force.
Savage was detailed to the specialized unit in 2014. Throughout his assignment he alleges he was subject to racist texts, found a food stamp with Barack Obama’s picture on his desk, and was taken to so-called “KKK lane” by members of the unit. The lawsuit also claims Pocomoke officials fired Sewell in June of 2016 after he refused to terminate Savage when an investigation by Maryland State Police found an officer in the task force had violated internal policies by sending racially charged texts .(Full disclosure, this reporter wrote a book with Sewell).
The appointment was met with skepticism by members of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus.
“We’re not just concerned, we’re outraged,” said Del. Cheryl Glenn, chair of the caucus. “We plan to discuss this with the governor this week.”
But it also elicited a rebuke from gubernatorial candidate and former NAACP president Ben Jealous.
“Larry Hogan’s appointment of State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby continues a troubling pattern, where time and again Hogan’s nominees have made troubling statements or actions that should make us wonder if they are committed to equal protection and treatment under the law for all Marylanders,” Jealous said.
In an email a spokesperson for Hogan responded by noting that a federal judge ruled that Oglesby had prosecutorial immunity from the lawsuit, and that Oglesby received letters of support from other law enforcement officials.
“The Judicial Nominating Commission, which is responsible for vetting potential judges, approved and recommended this candidate, and he has the nearly unanimous support of elected officials from both parties on the Eastern Shore, as well as bipartisan support from prosecutors and law enforcement officials across the state,” Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse wrote in an email.
One of those supporters, State Prosecutor Emmitt Davit, is part of another facet of the case that also raised concerns among Sewell’s supporters.
Davit indicted Sewell a year after he filed the EEOC complaint against Oglesby. The case was based upon a 2014 automobile accident involving an African-American driver who hit two parked cars. A Worcester County jury convicted Sewell in 2016 for misconduct in office for failing to charge him for leaving the scene, even though the driver called police after he drove his car two blocks from the accident to his home.
But the timing of the case and the legal theory that Sewell was criminally culpable for exercising officer discretion prompted several amici filings in an upcoming appeal, charging that Davitt’s case was retaliatory.
Bolstering the allegations were emails uncovered during the trial that revealed Oglesby was involved in the investigation, corresponding with Davit’s office and even pointing investigators to the accident and providing documents to bolster the case.
“(Maryland State Prosecutor) did not ask Oglesby about any particular incident, but rather put forth an open-ended query inviting Oglesby to conduct his own investigation to identify incidents that could be characterized as improper in some way. This is exactly what Oglesby did, compiling a list of four incidents that he shared with OSP, including the accident that ultimately formed the basis for OSP’s criminal charges,” according to the brief filed by the Civil Rights Law Clinic of Howard University Law School.
Co-director of the clinic, Amij Quereshi, says Oglesby’s appointment raises troubling questions about the fairness of the justice system and the ability of victims of discrimination to seek justice.
“The selective prosecution of Chief Sewell fits into a long pattern of troubling and discriminatory behavior against African Americans on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It is extremely disturbing that the Governor would appoint Mr. Oglesby despite these allegations and without a thorough inquiry into his role in this episode,” Querishi said.