Howard Co. lead­ers ask sher­iff to quit over re­port

Fitzger­ald is ac­cused of dis­crim­i­na­tion, ha­rass­ment

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Pamela Wood

Howard County’s cur­rent county ex­ec­u­tive and three for­mer ex­ec­u­tives are call­ing on Sher­iff James F. Fitzger­ald to re­sign fol­low­ing the re­lease of a scathing re­port al­leg­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion and ha­rass­ment of his em­ploy­ees.

“I hope that you will move quickly to en­sure that we main­tain the pub­lic’s trust in all law en­force­ment per­son­nel and re­sign from your po­si­tion as Sher­iff for Howard County,” Howard County Ex­ec­u­tive Al­lan Kit­tle­man wrote in a let­ter to Fitzger­ald on Thurs­day.

The call comes af­ter Howard County’s Of­fice of Hu­man Rights in­ves­ti­gated wide-rang­ing com­plaints about Fitzger­ald made by a for­mer lieu­tenant in the sher­iff’s depart­ment. In­ves­ti­ga­tors found “rea­son­able cause” that Fitzger­ald dis­crim­i­nated against the lieu­tenant for not sup­port­ing the sher­iff’s po­lit­i­cal cam­paign and was “sub­jected to a se­vere and per­va­sive work­place en­vi­ron­ment.”

Fitzger­ald is al­leged to have used foul lan­guage, in­clud­ing the “n-word.” The Fitzger­ald

re­port also al­leges the sher­iff told one em­ployee: “African-Amer­i­can deputies are not too smart, but they get the job done.”

Fitzger­ald, a Demo­crat serv­ing his third term as elected sher­iff, did not re­spond to mes­sages left at his of­fice and his home.

A spokes­woman for the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, which rep­re­sents the sher­iff in his of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity, said Fitzger­ald dis­agrees with the find­ings of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, Fitzger­ald told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he’s a “loud New Yorker,” but he de­nied dis­crim­i­na­tory con­duct. He touted his ef­forts to mod­ern­ize the of­fice and in­crease di­ver­sity among the sher­iff’s deputies.

Em­ploy­ees in­ter­viewed dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion de­scribed a pat­tern of neg­a­tive treat­ment by Fitzger­ald which they at­trib­uted to their po­lit­i­cal opin­ions and lack of sup­port for his cam­paign.

Lt. Charles Gable, who filed the com­plaint in Septem­ber 2015, told in­ves­ti­ga­tors Fitzger­ald “be­rated and be­lit­tled” him and left him with “no other choice but to leave his job.”

Gable was hired as a deputy sher­iff in 1998 and re­signed in Fe­bru­ary. His at­tor­ney did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment Thurs­day.

Kit­tle­man, a Repub­li­can, said in his let­ter that the al­le­ga­tions “serve as a dis­trac­tion to the day-to-day oper­a­tions of the Sher­iff’s of­fice and have the ca­pa­bil­ity of caus­ing se­ri­ous pub­lic mis­trust of our sworn pub­lic safety of­fi­cers.”

He said it’s im­por­tant for res­i­dents to have con­fi­dence in their sher­iff’s depart­ment, es­pe­cially at a time of “wide­spread dis­trust of law en­force­ment” na­tion­ally.

Kit­tle­man was joined by three of his pre­de­ces­sors in call­ing on Fitzger­ald to re­sign: Ken Ul­man, county ex­ec­u­tive from 2006 to 2014; James N. Robey, who served from 1998 to 2006; and Ed­ward L. Cochran, who served from 1974 to 1978.

The ex­ec­u­tives is­sued a joint state­ment say­ing Fitzger­ald’s state­ments “run counter” to Howard County’s “shared values of in­clu­sion and re­spect for neigh­bors of all back­grounds and be­liefs.”

Kit­tle­man said while he and oth­ers urge Fitzger­ald to re­sign, of­fi­cials have no re­course re­gard­ing the sher­iff, who is elected and runs his own of­fice. In Howard County, the sher­iff’s of­fice is not the pri­mary law en­force­ment agency, but han­dles court­house se­cu­rity, war­rants, pris­oner trans­port and land­lord-ten­ant is­sues.

“He’s a state con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cer, so we have no author­ity over his of­fice,” Kit­tle­man said. “We have now done ev­ery­thing we can do. We will have to wait and see what hap­pens. I’m hope­ful the sher­iff will con­sider our re­quest and I think it would be bet­ter for the depart­ment to move for­ward if he steps down.”

Un­der the Mary­land Con­sti­tu­tion, elected of­fi­cials can only be au­to­mat­i­cally re­moved from of­fice if they are con­victed of ei­ther a felony, or a mis­de­meanor re­lat­ing to their of­fi­cial du­ties that car­ries a pos­si­ble jail sen­tence.

Kit­tle­man, who was elected in 2014, said he was not aware of the al­le­ga­tions against Fitzger­ald un­til he read the hu­man rights re­port.

Among the find­ings in the 48-page re­port is an al­le­ga­tion Fitzger­ald once re­ferred to for­mer ex­ec­u­tive Ul­man as “lit­tle Kenny Jew-boy.”

“Frankly, the call­ing of names was in­cred­i­bly dis­ap­point­ing, but the per­va­sive be­hav­ior out­lined in the re­port was also in­cred­i­bly dis­ap­point­ing,” said Ul­man, a Demo­crat who now works as chief strat­egy of­fi­cer for the Univer­sity of Mary­land, Col­lege Park.

Ul­man said he’d seen Fitzger­ald’s tem­per at times and de­scribed the sher­iff as bois­ter­ous and pas­sion­ate — but had not heard of al­leged bul­ly­ing or be­rat­ing.

“We had meet­ings were he was up­set and would yell and scream a bit when he was un­happy he didn’t get some­thing in the bud­get,” Ul­man said. “That sort of be­hav­ior was not sur­pris­ing. The sys­tem­atic bul­ly­ing and pun­ish­ing peo­ple re­gard­ing po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties is com­pletely sur­pris­ing.”

County Coun­cil Chair­man Calvin Ball, a Demo­crat who is African-Amer­i­can, agreed that Fitzger­ald should con­sider re­sign­ing.

“I do not be­lieve that any leader — par­tic­u­larly a law en­force­ment leader — can ef­fec­tively serve, should these al­le­ga­tions be true,” Ball said. “I think he should def­i­nitely con­sider re­sign­ing.”

Ball said the rev­e­la­tions were dis­turb­ing, es­pe­cially given Howard County’s rep­u­ta­tion for striv­ing for di­ver­sity.

The Howard County Coun­cil, the reg­is­ter of wills, most of the county’s state sen­a­tors and del­e­gates, the Howard County Demo­cratic Cen­tral Com­mit­tee and Howard County Repub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee also called on Fitzger­ald to re­sign.

Kit­tle­man, whose late fa­ther, Robert Kit­tle­man, was a state se­na­tor, del­e­gate and one-time pres­i­dent of the county chap­ter of the NAACP, said Fitzger­ald’s con­duct is not in keep­ing with the spirit of Howard County.

“We have long been heralded as a county that is di­verse and wel­com­ing to peo­ple of all eth­nic groups, re­li­gious groups, racial groups,” Kit­tle­man said. “This cer­tainly goes against ev­ery­thing I was raised to be­lieve be­ing the son of a civil rights leader in Howard County. It is deeply trou­bling and deeply dis­turb­ing.”

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