Gov. Larry Hogan appointed a former Howard County police chief Thursday to replace the county's sheriff, James F. Fitzgerald, who resigned last month amid charges of discrimination and retaliation against employees.
William J. McMahon, who led the county police from 2006 to 2014 and gained prominence as the department's public face during the investigation of the fatal shootings in 2014 at The Mall in Columbia, will take over the sheriff's office.
Since retiring, McMahon has served as acting executive director of the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions.
Fitzgerald, a Democrat, quit under pressure after the county's Office of Human Rights found there was "reasonable cause" to believe he had retaliated and discriminated against employees who did not support his 2014 election campaign. Lawmakers had been exploring whether the General Assembly could impeach him.
Investigators laid out accusations that Fitzgerald used racist and vulgar language, including a reference to former County Executive Ken Ulman as "little Kenny Jew-boy," and disparaging remarks about African-American deputies.
The governor's office said that as chief, McMahon oversaw significant reductions in most categories of crime in Howard County and implemented programs that improved traffic safety and officer safety.
His department was in the national spotlight in the aftermath of the January 2014 shooting at the Columbia mall. A 19-year-old gunman shot and killed two mall employees, then took his own life.
McMahon, 54, said his focus as sheriff will be on restoring public confidence in the office and making sure employees have "a positive work environment." He declined to elaborate until he has had an opportunity to address the workforce.
A Republican, McMahon also declined to say whether he would seek election to a four-year term in 2018.
Fitzgerald made $91,000 annually. It was not immediately clear whether McMahon would make the same amount.
McMahon is a graduate of the University of Maryland and holds a master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University. He is also a former president of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association.
Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman praised Hogan's choice, calling McMahon an "appropriate and thoughtful" selection.
"Bill McMahon has demonstrated he has the temperament, dedication and leadership qualities to lead the sheriff's office and will help restore confidence to both that office and the residents of Howard County," Kittleman, a Republican, said in a statement.
Howard County Council Chairman Calvin Ball, a Democrat, said he has known McMahon for almost 20 years and believes he will bring "experience and competence" to the job.
"When he ran the Police Department, he ran it with honor and distinction, and he was a joy to work with," Ball said.
David Steele, president of the Howard County NAACP, also recalled McMahon's tenure as chief. He said McMahon was "very open, very fair" and "very attentive to the issues I brought forth."
One of the first things McMahon will need to do, Steele said, is assess whether the type of thinking Fitzgerald represented is prevalent in the department. If so, McMahon needs to "root it out," he said.
"The newly appointed sheriff's first goal should be to restore the department to a level of respect and confidence," Steele added.
John McMahon, runner-up in the 2014 race for Howard County sheriff, said the appointment won't resolve all the issues in the sheriff's office. He is not related to William McMahon.
"There has been a problem with the sheriff for a decade," John McMahon said. "My question is basically, how could this happen? It didn't happen in a vacuum."
Earlier this year, he filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court calling for the state to replace Fitzgerald. He alleged the former sheriff never took the oath of office and was not eligible for the position.
"The appointment silences those issues," he said.
John McMahon had applied for the vacancy after Fitzgerald resigned. On Wednesday, the court decided he has no legal right to the office because state law requires the governor to appoint the sheriff in the event of vacancy.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Fatimah Waseem contributed to this article.
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