By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
In the wake of a decision by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to overturn the conviction of Pocomoke’s first Black police chief Kelvin Sewell for misconduct, political leaders and civil rights activists gathered in Annapolis Dec. 11. Their goal was to garner support for their next challenge: dissuading State Prosecutor Emmitt Davitt from trying the case again.
“Clearly an injustice has been done here,” Carl Snowden, convener of The Caucus of African-American Leaders said. “We feel very strongly as a community we should urge the
State Prosecutors office these resources should be used for something other than going after Chief Sewell.”
Carl Snowden, a veteran civil rights activists based in Annapolis is among several leaders rallying
support for former Pocomoke City Police Chief Kelvin Sewell. (Photo credit: Taya Graham)
The group voted to send a letter to Davitt expressing support for Sewell.
During the meeting the group dedicated to advancing civil rights for people of color, Snowden argued the decision to pursue Sewell for misconduct was politically fraught;
particularly because the entire case is predicated upon the aftermath of a minor accident involving a moving vehicle and two parked cars in which no one person was injured.
“Although Pocomoke city is on the Eastern shore, this case is part of a broader struggle fighting against injustice,” Snowden said.
The gathering of political leaders and civil rights activist focused on criticism that the criminal prosecution of Sewell came after he filed an EEOC complaint alleging racism in
various Worcester County law enforcement agencies.
Prosecutors charged Sewell for failing to arrest Pocomoke resident Doug Matthews after he crashed into two parked cars in 2014 and drove three blocks to his home before calling police. Davitt alleged Sewell’s decision was corrupt because both he and Matthews were members of an Eastern Shore chapter of the African-American Masons.
However, the court ruled there was no evidence of a prior relationship between Sewell and Mathews and that the case relied solely upon testimony that Sewell behaved “unusually,” from two Pocomoke police officers who were on the scene.
The court focused on the decision of a Worcester County judge who denied Sewell’s request to call two expert witnesses to testify that his decision was in fact routine.
Since the case focused on Sewell’s decision not to charge Matthews the court ruled the exclusion of expert witnesses denied Sewell the right to a fair trial.
But in a 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 ruling Davitt told The AFRO he was 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.
The Pocomoke City Council fired Sewell in 2015 without explanation. Later he filed a
federal lawsuit alleging he was terminated for refusing to fire two Black officers, who filed
EEOC complaints against a Worcester County Drug Task Force.
The complaint accused members of the county’s elite drug unit of the racial hazing of
Detective Frank Savage, a Pocomoke City police officer detailed to the unit.
The lawsuit also alleges Savage was subjected to texts with the N-word, and a forced
trip to so-called KKK lane, the site of lynchings on the Eastern Shore. Fellow officers also
placed a food stamp with former President Barak Obama’s picture on It in his desk, and
someone put a bloody deer tail on Savage’s car.
The Maryland State Police investigated the complaint and sustained charges against the
sole state police officer on the task force.
After attending a mediation meeting to discuss the charges, Sewell’s lawsuit alleges
members of the Pocomoke City Council demanded he fire Savage, and Lieutenant Lynell
Greene who also attended.
The suit is currently in discovery.
One point of contention raised by critics of the case was Davitt’s intense focus on an
accident in which no one was hurt amid a series of police corruption scandals in Baltimore,
where he also has jurisdiction.
“I’m not sure why he’s spent so much of the state’s resources on pursuing a Black police
chief who by all accounts was doing a great job,” said State Senator Jill P. Carter. “Certainly
there has to be more pressing cases of police misconduct here.”