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Pocomoke City to enter consent decree in lawsuit over racial discrimination

The Pocomoke City Police Department will partially resolve ongoing litigation over race discrimination with a consent decree, the ACLU of Maryland announced Thursday.

A federal judge is expected to enter judgment against the city on claims of discrimination and retaliation brought by former Chief Kelvin Sewell and former Lt. Lynell Green, according to a news release.

The parties will ask the court to approve and enforce a consent decree mandating reform of policies and procedures in the department. Sewell and Green will also receive a total of $650,000 in damages.

Dennis A. Corkery, an attorney with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, said the consent decree is in draft form and expected to be finalized in the next couple of weeks. The consent decree is set to be in place for three years.

“It is our hope that by putting new policies and practices in place, others will be protected,” Green said in a statement. “No one should have to go through what we went through.”

The ACLU of Maryland, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, and Wiley Rein LLP filed suit jointly on behalf of Sewell, Green and Det. Franklin Savage in 2016, alleging that racial discrimination had created a hostile work environment.

Sewell, the Eastern Shore’s first black police chief, Green and Savage alleged that they endured discrimination, which included the repeated use of racial slurs by officers and city officials, the circulation of materials that made derogatory comments about former President Barack Obama, and open discussion of lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan’s presence in the area.

“The extreme racial harassment and retaliation that these three officers experienced was unacceptable and unambiguously illegal,” Corkery said. “This judgment reflects the seriousness of their claims.”

Sewell was fired in 2015 after he refused to terminate Savage, who along with Green had filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Sewell and Green were both indicted in 2016 on charges that they covered up a hit-and-run accident in 2014 to help a friend. Sewell was convicted of misconduct in office and sentenced to probation, but his conviction was overturned by the Court of Special Appeals in November. Green was convicted of conspiracy to commit misconduct in office and was sentenced to serve probation before judgment, meaning the misdemeanor charge could be expunged from his record if he successfully completes probation.

“While the scars from this experience will never fade completely, I am hopeful that this consent decree will help protect both officers and the community in the future,” Sewell said. “Now I hope to move on with my own life, while also continuing to supporting Detective Savage in his ongoing fight.”

The consent decree does not resolve Savage’s claims against the city, in which the U.S. Department of Justice intervened, according to the release. Savage was the lead plaintiff in the litigation.

“I loved my career in law enforcement, but it was taken away from me because I stood up for what was right,” Savage said. “Ultimately, it’s the job of law enforcement to do the right thing and that’s what I always try to do. We put our lives on the line every day. Now, I’m in a fight for justice, and I am determined to hold those who have done wrong to me and my coworkers accountable for their actions.”

Corkery said the parties are in the midst of discovery in U.S. District Court for the remaining claims. Though Savage is pleased that the department will be subject to a consent decree, Corkery said he is “anxious to keep litigating and achieve justice as well.”

Attorneys for the city, Daniel Karp and Michael Rynd of Karpinski, Colaresi & Karp P.A. in Baltimore, did not respond to a request for comment.

The case is Franklin Savage et al. v. Pocomoke City et al., 1:16-cv-00201.

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