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State prosecutor defends Eastern Shore police misconduct case

A day after securing a second misconduct conviction against former Eastern Shore police officers, Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt defended his office against accusations that the case was insignificant and fueled in part by race discrimination complaints made by the officers.

Former Pocomoke City Police Chief Kelvin Sewell and Lt. Lynell Green were convicted in separate trials on charges that they helped cover up a crash involving a fellow Freemason who had driven into two parked vehicles and left the scene driving on three wheels.

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Prosecutors said officers suspected the driver had been drinking, but Sewell directed them to write up the incident as an accident instead of a hit-and-run.

Sewell, a former Baltimore homicide detective who is currently the chief investigator for the Baltimore state's attorney's office, was convicted by a jury of misconduct in office earlier this month. Green was convicted by a judge Tuesday of a misconduct conspiracy charge.

The driver "could've killed someone," Davitt said Wednesday in an interview. "For police to ignore or excuse it because he happens to be a Mason buddy is inexcusable and a very serious accusation of misconduct."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland questioned Davitt's office last week for pursuing the case and said they have requested documents that would reveal insight into how the state prosecutor's office decides to pursue police misconduct.

Before the charges, Sewell, Pocomoke City's first black police chief, had been fired without explanation after he backed complaints by Green and another officer of workplace race discrimination. The officers went on to file a lawsuit against Pocomoke City and Worcester County officials, with the backing of the ACLU.

The U.S. Justice Department has intervened in the discrimination case on behalf of Sewell and the other plaintiffs.

Deborah Jeon, the ACLU's legal director, said she believes Eastern Shore officials were seeking to retaliate against Sewell, and Davitt's office failed to take that into account when pursuing the allegations. She called Sewell a "whistleblower targeted with a conspiracy of racial discrimination and retaliation."

"I think the state prosecutor's office should be looking at the bigger picture — why were they contacted, was this part of the pattern of race discrimination that the U.S. Justice Department said has been occurring," Jeon said.

Davitt said he was first contacted by Sewell himself, when he was still the police chief. Sewell said he had received a letter saying that county officials were going to plant drugs in the police station. Davitt said his team sought an original copy of the letter but never heard back from Sewell.

When Sewell was fired, Davitt said he was contacted about a number of allegations. Davitt said city and county officials were not involved in his investigation. He noted that Green's statement to investigators, which implicated Sewell, was key to the case.

"I — solely, independently — made the decision to proceed based on the things we discovered," Davitt said.

Davitt is appointed by the governor and has a small staff that looks into public corruption and election violations. His office has filed a handful of cases involving police over the years.

Jeon said there are many police misconduct complaints across the state, particularly in Baltimore, that his office could be looking into.

"If in fact the state prosecutor's office says this is what their job is, should people be bringing all misconduct allegations about the Baltimore City police to the state prosecutor, and will he go after them?" Jeon said.

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Davitt said his office defers to local state's attorneys, whose offices retain jurisdiction over such cases. He stressed that his office takes on corruption, not brutality, allegations.

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