Howard County leaders are trying to oust the county sheriff after a scathing report accused him of racism, bigotry, and retaliating against staff that didn’t support his reelection. Heading law enforcement in one of Maryland’s wealthiest counties, Sheriff James Fitzgerald, insisted, despite calls for him to step down, he will not resign.
Howard County Sheriff James Fitzgerald has been accused of using racial slurs in the workplace. (Courtesy photo)
Accused of threatening employees using racial slurs, the report alleged an atmosphere of intimidation lead by Fitzgerald, whose behavior likened him a “poster child for bigotry, bullying, and temper tantrums.”
In a news conference where only select press were invited and no questions were allowed, Fitzgerald addressed the charges as “humbling, hurtful and disappointing.”
The 49-page investigation, conducted by the Office of Human Rights, included statements from dozens of current and former employees of the sheriff’s office, including an African-American deputy Fitzgerald reportedly made constant comments to about watermelons. Even Fitzgerald’s supporters, confirmed his statements and behavior to the county investigators.
“It’s disgraceful that as the nation teeters on the edge of a total breakdown in racial tolerance, our county sheriff had lost his mind. If the head is rotten, then the entire law enforcement community must be equally scrutinized because of his leadership,” Columbia resident Portia Murray told the AFRO. “Fitzgerald’s refusal to step down or at least to answer the charges being levied against him, is disheartening.”
Others county residents, including Charles Younger of Glen Burnie, believe the charges against Fitzgerald may be overstated or suspicious because of the current anti-police sentiments among African-Americans.
“There are a lot of spaces where men speak rough and where language is not always politically correct. I’d like to believe that Sheriff Fitzgerald’s words fell on sensitive ears, rather than to believe he is a racist bigot,” Younger told the AFRO. “When I worked a foreman’s crew years ago, me and the other guys were constantly being called ‘Princess’ or ‘Mary Alice’ by the lead man to get me to pick up the pace. I would never have reported him for hurting my feelings.”
As an elected official, Fitzgerald cannot be fired, forcing state lawmakers, including Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, to consider impeachment to restore order.
“A hostile work environment alone is not the way we should have our sheriff’s department run,” Kittleman told the Baltimore Sun. “I recognize that impeachment of any elected official is an extreme step, one that should not be taken in haste. But the offensive actions and behavior documented in the OHR report are so grossly contrary to the shared values of inclusion and respect for all that we hold dear in Howard County that I see no other recourse.”
Fitzgerald currently manages 69 employees with a budget of nearly $8 million, in a job that pays him $91,000. The sheriff’s current term ends in 2018.
Fitzgerald’s office did not respond to requests for comment.