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Homicide unit commander under scrutiny

City police investigators examined yesterday the computer hard drive used by a white commander accused of ordering a black sergeant to watch online Ku Klux Klan videos, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.

Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for the Police Department and the mayor's office, said that the police commissioner briefed Mayor Sheila Dixon on Monday night and yesterday morning on a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint stemming from the alleged incident, but he declined to comment further on the matter.

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"The EEOC is investigating this complaint, and we take these matters really seriously," Clifford said.

The black police officer, Sgt. Kelvin Sewell of the city's homicide unit, filed a nine-count Equal Employment Opportunities Commission complaint earlier this month, alleging that his commander ordered him to watch the KKK videos for an hour, criticized his use of overtime and joked that Sewell was a target of an internal affairs investigation, according to the Baltimore Examiner.

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The Police Department is pursuing an internal affairs investigation into whether Sewell used his department credit card to put gas in his personal car, according to two sources familiar with that probe.

Sewell could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Clarke Ahlers, Sewell's lawyer, said the EEOC complaint was against Lt. James W. Hagin Jr., a 26-year veteran of the Police Department who recently became a commander in homicide.

Ahlers said his client has heard reports suggesting that the computer might have been tampered with before authorities seized it. He said a forensic computer expert would be able to determine whether tampering occurred.

The complaint is the second charge of racial insensitivity at the Police Department in recent weeks. Sgt. Robert Smith, a black officer who supervised a unit in the Southwest Precinct whose members have been accused of having improperly stored drugs and pornography in the station house, has said that he was targeted unfairly for punishment because of the color of his skin.

The local branch of the NAACP, the 1,000-member black police officers organization and a City Council member have taken up his cause.

Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham Sr., president of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, yesterday renewed a request he made last week to have an outside group review allegations of racial tension and unequal treatment at the Police Department.

"We're not saying it is happening or not happening," Cheatham said. "People evidently feel disparate treatment. ... We need to get to the bottom of this."

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Paul Blair, the police union president, said that he was unaware of the EEOC complaint made by Sewell and played down concerns about racial tensions in the city's homicide unit.

"This is one incident," he said. "I've heard no complaints coming out of the homicide unit, aside from tightening up on the overtime."

Detectives now need permission from their majors before working overtime to investigate cases. The new policy has frustrated many in the unit.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com



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