The sheriff of Howard County, Maryland, resigned Tuesday amid reports that he created a “hostile” work environment by making racist and anti-Semitic remarks, and retaliating against subordinates who didn’t support his re-election campaign.
Sheriff James Fitzgerald resigned a day after Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman directed county attorneys to explore options for removing the sheriff from office.
“His egregious conduct and behavior as detailed in a Howard County Office of Human Rights investigation are incompatible with the values of inclusion and respect that we hold dear in Howard County,” said Mr. Kittleman, a Republican, adding that the sheriff had “ignored calls from myself, other elected officials and community leaders in the county for him to resign.”
Former sheriff’s Lt. Charles Gable filed a complaint in September 2015 saying Sheriff Fitzgerald ruled by fear and retaliation and made derogatory remarks about women, Jews and blacks. Howard County’s human rights office substantiated the claims through interviews with former and current employees.
“I believed from the instant the issue came to light that resignation was the only option, and I needed the sheriff to see that as well,” Howard County Council Chairman Calvin Ball said Tuesday.
Mr. Ball said he reached an agreement with Sheriff Fitzgerald to step down and to reinstate Mr. Gable as a lieutenant at the sheriff’s office and give him more than $58,000 in back pay from when he was fired in February.
Noting calls for the sheriff’s impeachment, Mr. Ball said that coming to an agreement was a quicker and easier process.
“I appreciate the call for impeachment; however, this can be a lengthy process,” the county lawmaker said. “Therefore, I began engaging in discussions with Mr. Fitzgerald, following the release of the human rights report, to discuss the voluntary conciliatory process.”
The General Assembly would need to be in session to conduct impeachment proceedings against the sheriff. The next legislative session is scheduled to begin Jan. 11.
Howard County is one of the wealthiest counties in the country. It has more than 310,000 residents and is home to one of the nation’s most educated workforces.
Maryland congressional leaders, including Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, chided Mr. Fitzgerald, a fellow Democrat, for his behavior. They said the people of Howard County deserve “leadership that understands that bullying, racism, sexism and anti-Semitism should have no place in American law enforcement.”
The Anti-Defamation League also issued a statement calling for the sheriff’s resignation.
“We share deep concern over the findings in the report as they bring into question whether Sheriff Fitzgerald is suitable to hold this position of authority and service to the community,” said David Friedman, the league’s vice president of law enforcement, extremism and community security. “Law enforcement officers must never forget the trust and faith communities invest in them as guardians and protectors.”
Mr. Ball said the pain Mr. Fitzgerald caused the community has had a “horrendous impact” but also has forced officials and residents to have conversations that are important, even if they make people uncomfortable.
“Some hurtful things were said, things that I take quite personally as a black man with a beautiful black family,” Mr. Ball said. “Howard County deserves better from its leaders. I hope we can see this moment as a beginning and not an end.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.