- Associated Press - Friday, August 21, 2015

POCOMOKE CITY, Md. (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union is claiming that Pocomoke City Council members violated Maryland’s open meetings law in deciding to fire the town’s police chief.

In a complaint filed Thursday with the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board, the ACLU says city officials met twice in closed session in late June without providing proper notice to the public. The ACLU says the decision to fire chief Kelvin Sewell was made in the second meeting, scheduled by Mayor Bruce Morrision the day before in a text message to council members.

The complaint also says city officials violated state law by going into executive session without first meeting publicly and taking a vote to hold a closed session for a specifically stated reason.

“In conducting important government business in private, … Pocomoke City officials clearly violated the Maryland Open Meetings Act,” ACLU legal director Deborah Jeon wrote, adding that actions taken during the unlawful meetings, including the decision to terminate Sewell, be voided.

City attorney William Hudson said Friday that he believes the meetings met the criteria that allow emergency sessions to be held without the normally requisite public notice. The ACLU disagrees, saying neither meeting presented emergency circumstances that would have precluded public notice.

“They have no idea what the facts and circumstances are, so how can they make that determination?” Hudson said. “…. I don’t know that it’s fair for them to rush to judgment.”

Hudson said he would take responsibility for any technical violation of the procedures requiring a public vote to go into executive session, but he noted that any such vote would have taken place in an otherwise empty room.

Last month, the ACLU filed a complaint alleging that city officials illegally barred reporters from a July council meeting during which Sewell’s firing was discussed. Mayor Bruce Morrison later took responsibility and apologized for that decision, saying he was simply trying to give priority access to the crowded council room to local residents.

Sewell, the town’s first black police chief, has claimed that he was fired for refusing to terminate two other black officers who, like Sewell, have filed job discrimination complaints.

City officials have emphatically denied that Sewell was ousted because he refused to fire the two officers but say they are precluded from disclosing details about the decision to fire him because of privacy rules regarding personnel issues.

The allegations of discrimination stem from Savage’s two-year stint on the Worcester County Criminal Enforcement Team, a multijurisdictional drug unit. Savage, the only black officer on the task force, filed an EEOC complaint last year saying he was repeatedly subjected to racial slurs and harassment.

The role that Sewell’s relationships with other local law enforcement agencies may have played in his firing is unclear. On at least two occasions, most recently in June, representatives of outside agencies have come into Pocomoke City to make drug arrests without Sewell’s prior knowledge or participation.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide