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Howard County's first African-American state's attorney talks about history and his vision for the future

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

Within moments of being sworn in as Howard County’s new state’s attorney — the first-ever African-American to hold that position — Rich Gibson positioned himself with his back to the crowded courtroom and took a selfie to commemorate the moment.

“I am the first African-American state’s attorney in Howard County,” Gibson said in his remarks Monday in Howard County Circuit Court. “The fact is both sad and remarkable. It’s sad because of how long [it took] to break the barrier.”

Gibson, a Democrat, defeated former deputy state’s attorney Kim Yon Oldham, a Republican, in the November general election. Former state’s attorney Dario Broccolino, a Democrat who had been in office nearly 12 years, did not seek re-election and retired from the office. In 2014, Gibson lost to Broccolino in the primary.

In his remarks during Monday’s ceremony, Gibson said he hopes the prosecutors in his office will work to be “change agents,” to look at the judicial process in a holistic way. He said Howard’s prosecutors have a “powerful voice” in the judicial system and also have the ability to make “a real impact” on someone’s life.

“We all want a fair process, we all want a safe community,” he said.

Gibson joins County Executive Calvin Ball and Sheriff Marcus Harris as the first black men elected to their respective roles in county history.

Harris, who ran on the same ticket as Gibson, said “the county couldn’t have gotten a better state’s attorney.”

Both Gibson and Harris have spoken about reaching out to the county’s youth. Gibson has said he wants to be a voice on the danger of drugs; Harris has said he wants to establish an educational mentoring program for children.

“When I decided to run, I didn't know Rich but we have a lot of the same values and that’s why we became close,” Harris said.

Ball, who did not attend the swearing in, said in an interview he is “looking forward to working with Mr. Gibson on initiatives that not only make our community safer, but invest in our youth and help to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Gibson began his legal career as a law clerk in Prince George’s County Circuit Court nearly 16 years ago, and went on to work in the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s office. For the past 12 years, he has been an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore, where he worked in its general felony unit, the Firearms Investigation Violence Enforcement Unit, the homicide unit and the major investigations unit.

Also sworn in were newly employed deputy state’s attorneys and the office’s assistant state’s attorneys.

Joshua J. Felsen and Christopher A. Sandmann were sworn in as deputy state’s attorneys. Both have worked in the State’s Attorney’s Office of Baltimore City for years, and Gibson said the three of them worked together in the firearms investigation unit.

“We’ve been in the trenches together for a while,” Gibson said of Felsen and Sandmann. “I trust their judgement.”

As he was sworn in, Gibson was joined by his wife, Dr. Carissa Guishard-Gibson, an internal medicine doctor, and their three children Arianna, 12, Makena, 8, and Nathaniel, 4.

“Most people that come to know him, come to love him,” Gibson’s wife said during the ceremony. “All of you should be proud to call him your state’s attorney.”

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