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Former Pocomoke City police chief set to stand trial on misconduct charges

Chief investigator for State's Attorney's Office set to stand trial on misconduct charges stemming from time a

The chief investigator for the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office is set to stand trial Thursday on misconduct charges for allegedly spiking a traffic investigation when he was an Eastern Shore police chief because the driver was a fellow Mason.

The case of former Pocomoke City police chief Kelvin Sewell is surrounded by allegations of racism, political retaliation and misconduct.

Sewell, a former Baltimore homicide detective who was named Pocomoke's first black police chief in 2011, had filed workplace race discrimination complaints and then was fired without explanation in the summer of 2015. He then filed a federal lawsuit against Pocomoke and Worcester County officials.

The criminal charges against him were filed by the state prosecutor's office less than six months after the lawsuit, on allegations that dated to November 2014.

Sewell's attorneys have argued in court papers that the prosecution is politically motivated, and unsuccessfully sought to have the charges dismissed. Key to the investigation, they say, was Worcester County State's Attorney Beau Oglesby, who was a defendant in Sewell's lawsuit.

"The pattern of investigation … shows a broad and vast targeting of Chief Sewell to find something, anything against him," Sewell's attorneys wrote.

The state prosecutor's office declined to comment on the accusations. Oglesby did not immediately return a request for comment.

Sewell joined the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office as a contract investigator in March. He is listed on the agency's web site as being the chief investigator. The office has declined to comment on the criminal charges against him.

The state prosecutor's office charged Sewell and Pocomoke City Lt. Lynell Green with misconduct and conspiracy to commit misconduct in July for allegedly interfering in the investigation of a traffic accident that occurred Nov. 21, 2014.

Doug Matthews, a local corrections officer, struck two unoccupied cars near his home, and called Green — who is also a plaintiff in Sewell's lawsuit against the city and county — to report the accident. The owners of the vehicles that were struck called 911.

The state contends that Sewell visited the scene and instructed an officer to write up the incident as an accident, and prevented further investigation.

"The state aspires to prove that Chief Sewell had a corrupt intent because he concluded that the incident should be written up as an accident and precluded Officer Barnes from asking all the questions she wanted, all because Doug Matthews was a fellow Mason," Sewell's attorneys wrote in their motion to dismiss the case.

Masons are one of the world's oldest fraternal orders.

Sewell's attorneys said in their motion that law enforcement officers have broad discretion in performing their duties, and note that no one was injured.

"In these circumstances, it was entirely within Chief Sewell's discretion not to issue a citation," his attorneys said.

Matthews told The Sun this summer that "everything was handled correctly" and that the charges against Sewell were "bogus."

Oglesby's involvement raises questions about retaliation, Sewell's attorneys said, charging that he was at the center of a controversy involving Sewell and two other officers who had filed racial discrimination complaints.

The motion to dismiss was denied earlier this month.

Sewell's allegations of racism in Pocomoke City attracted national media attention, including by the New York Times, and his dismissal divided the town of 4,000. Sewell alleged that he was fired in retribution for defending two black officers who had complained about racism, including officers watching "racially charged" videos in their presence and regularly using racial epithets.

Sewell and the officers been aided in their lawsuit by the ACLU of Maryland.

The Maryland attorney general's office, which is representing the city and county in the suit, has called the lawsuit an "absurd, meritless" complaint and an "attempt to extract some sort of undeserved windfall payout."

Sewell spent more than 20 years with the Baltimore Police Department before retiring as a sergeant in 2010. His departure followed similar racism allegations that a supervisor had ordered him to view a Ku Klux Klan website after insisting that the group was active in Sewell's home county.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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