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New Howard sheriff pledges to restore lost trust in office

Bill McMahon, a former Howard County police chief, vowed to restore public trust in the sheriff's office and build strong relationships between staff as he was sworn in as the county's sheriff Wednesday afternoon.

McMahon, who retired after leading the county's police force from 2006 to 2014, replaces James Fitzgerald, who resigned in October amid charges of discrimination and retaliation against staff.

A year-long county investigation found reasonable cause that Fitzgerald retaliated and discriminated against employees who did not support his 2014 election campaign. A bipartisan group of local and state elected officials called for Fitzgerald's immediate resignation.

The investigation by the county's Office of Human Rights documented years of questionable treatment by Fitzgerald based on interviews with current and former staff. Fitzgerald allegedly used vulgar and racially charged language that demeaned African Americans, Jews and women, according to the report.

Fitzgerald denied the allegations.

McMahon, who was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this month, said he is committed to tackling two "significant challenges" in his new position: restoring the community's trust in the sheriff's office and creating a healthy working environment for his staff, a group he said faced major "scrutiny" after the release of the county's report.

"Until you deliver on what you say you're going to do, there's that level of trust [to build]," McMahon said. "They're going to develop trust in me and I'm going to develop trust in them."

The sheriff plans to leverage his existing relationship with staff in the sheriff's office to strengthen the office environment. McMahon said he knew Charlie Gable, who filed the complaint that led to the county's report and who was reinstated to the sheriff's office last month.

McMahon has begun meeting with community and faith leaders to address specific concerns about his office.

The 54-year-old did not indicate if he plans to run for reelection in 2018, when his term expires. He will earn an annual salary of $91,000, the same as Fitzgerald.

McMahon was rocketed to the national spotlight when his department responded to a 2014 shooting at the Columbia mall where a 19-year-old shot and killed two employees and then took his own life.

The Howard County sheriff's office provides courthouse security, serves warrants, transports prisoners and addresses landlord-tenant disputes. It is not the county's primary law enforcement agency.

Meanwhile, John McMahon, the runner-up to the 2014 race for Howard County sheriff, continues to assert he is the rightful sheriff. In a case before Anne Arundel Circuit Court, McMahon, who is not related to the new sheriff and who also applied for the position, is arguing Fitzgerald failed to take the oath of office, leaving the position vacant.

Others in the county were aware of Fitzgerald's failure to take the oath of office. Last year, when Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman approached Fitzgerald to take the oath, Fitzgerald said he was working on it.

The case is still in progress.


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