Lead­ers seek to oust sher­iff

Howard’s Fitzger­ald says he won’t re­sign over claims of racism

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Pamela Wood

Lead­ers in Howard County are tak­ing steps to re­move em­bat­tled Sher­iff James Fitzger­ald from of­fice af­ter he said Thurs­day that he won’t re­sign over al­le­ga­tions he used foul and racist lan­guage to be­lit­tle and threaten em­ploy­ees.

Howard County Ex­ec­u­tive Al­lan H. Kit­tle­man asked the county’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives in An­napo­lis to in­ves­ti­gate whether the Gen­eral Assem­bly can im­peach Fitzger­ald.

“I rec­og­nize that im­peach­ment of any elected of­fi­cial is an ex­treme step, one that should not be taken in haste,” Kit­tle­man wrote to law­mak­ers. “But the of­fen­sive ac­tions and be­hav­ior doc­u­mented in [a county hu­man rights in­ves­ti­ga­tion] are so grossly con­trary to the shared val­ues of in­clu­sion and respect for all that we hold dear in Howard County that I see no other re­course.”

Del. Vanessa At­ter­beary, who chairs the county’s House del­e­ga­tion, said she and state Sen. Guy Guz­zone, who chairs the Sen­ate del­e­ga­tion, have asked the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s lawyers whether they can im­peach the sher­iff and how the process would work.

Fitzger­ald, a Demo­crat, has been ac­cused of cre­at­ing a hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment for those who did not sup­port his re-elec­tion cam­paign. Fitzger­ald

The al­le­ga­tions were de­tailed in a re­port by the county’s Of­fice of Hu­man Rights, which in­ves­ti­gated a com­plaint filed last year by a lieu­tenant in the sher­iff’s of­fice.

The Of­fice of Hu­man Rights found “rea­son­able cause” that the sher­iff dis­crim­i­nated against Lt. Charles Gable. Gable re­signed in Fe­bru­ary.

County Coun­cil Chair­man Calvin Ball, a Demo­crat, said Thurs­day that if Fitzger­ald didn’t re­sign he would ask Kit­tle­man and Gov. Larry Ho­gan “to ex­plore al­ter­na­tive means of ful­fill­ing the func­tions” of the of­fice.

Kit­tle­man and Ball are among more than 20 cur­rent and for­mer elected of­fi­cials from both par­ties who have called for Fitzger­ald to re­sign since the re­port was pub­lished last week.

At a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day, Fitzger­ald said he would not re­sign.

The third-term sher­iff apol­o­gized for the drama sur­round­ing the ac­cu­sa­tions but said he in­tends to stay in of­fice.

“The re­port was hum­bling, hurt­ful and dis­ap­point­ing for all in­volved,” he said. He said the find­ings had in­spired him to cat­a­log his ac­com­plish­ments in of­fice, in­clud­ing hir­ing African-Amer­i­cans as deputies.

At­ter­beary, a Demo­crat, said the Mary­land Con­sti­tu­tion has pro­vi­sions for im­peach­ing hold­ers of of­fices, in­clud­ing county sher­iffs.

At­ter­beary and Guz­zone plan to meet with the rest of the Howard County del­e­ga­tion to de­cide whether to pro­ceed with im­peach­ment.

“We live in a com­mu­nity that’s founded on di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion,” she said. “To have a leader in that com­mu­nity who is sup­posed to pro­tect peo­ple, who deals with is­sues of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, who has to ef­fec­tu­ate evic­tion no­tices ... and to say the type of things he said about women, folks of dif­fer­ent re­li­gious back­grounds, dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties — peo­ple don’t trust him.”

Guz­zone, also a Demo­crat, said he had hoped Fitzger­ald would re­sign so that dis­cus­sion of im­peach­ment wouldn’t be nec­es­sary.

“When you have the right to ar­rest peo­ple, de­tain peo­ple, in­ter­act with peo­ple with au­thor­ity, there is a high ex­pec­ta­tion that all ci­ti­zens be dealt with dig­nity and respect,” he said. “That’s a mat­ter of pub­lic trust. If the pub­lic loses faith in that, I think we have a real prob­lem.”

The Gen­eral Assem­bly con­sid­ered im­peach­ing a sher­iff in 1973. Frederick County Sher­iff Richard O. Baum­gart­ner had been in­dicted on 32 counts in­clud­ing em­bez­zle­ment and malfea­sance in of­fice.

The Mary­land Con­sti­tu­tion lays out the im­peach­ment process only for the gov­er­nor, lieu­tenant gov­er­nor and judges. But the at­tor­ney gen­eral at the time, Fran­cis B. Burch, wrote that sher­iffs also could be im­peached.

Elected of­fi­cials may be re­moved from of­fice if they are con­victed of a felony, or of a mis­de­meanor re­lated to their con­duct in of­fice that car­ries the pos­si­bil­ity of jail time. Fitzger­ald has not been charged with any crime.

Fitzger­ald sum­moned re­porters to his Columbia of­fice Thurs­day to make his state­ment.

He spoke broadly about po­lice-com­mu­nity re­la­tions and the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about polic­ing, and said he wants to use his ex­pe­ri­ence to “show that law en­force­ment is a part of the so­lu­tion.”

“I’m shift­ing this chal­lenge that faces our of­fice and my lead­er­ship as a way to make things bet­ter by mov­ing for­ward so the com­mu­nity can see my heart,” Fitzger­ald said.

He did not ad­dress the find­ings of the hu­man rights in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He did not speak of changes in his of­fice or changes in lead­er­ship. He said he re­mained com­mit­ted to serv­ing the peo­ple of Howard County.

He did not an­swer ques­tions from re­porters.

The Of­fice of Hu­man Rights, which in­ter­viewed mem­bers of the sher­iff’s depart­ment, reported ac­cu­sa­tions that Fitzger­ald used a slur for African-Amer­i­cans and called for­mer County Ex­ec­u­tive Ken Ul­man “lit­tle Kenny Jew-boy.”

“He was de­scribed as vin­dic­tive, ar­ro­gant, rude, bel­liger­ent, nasty and in­timi- dat­ing,” in­ves­ti­ga­tors wrote in the re­port.

Ul­man said Thurs­day he was dis­ap­pointed that Fitzger­ald didn’t re­sign. He said he sup­ported the ef­fort to im­peach him.

“The fact that we have peo­ple in po­si­tions of au­thor­ity who think and be­have this way in 2016 shows that we still have more work to do as a so­ci­ety,” Ul­man said in a state­ment.

A hand­ful of pro­test­ers showed up at Fitzger­ald’s of­fice Thurs­day, stand­ing in the rain and car­ry­ing signs that read “Black Lives Mat­ter” and “Stop Dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

“This man has said some de­plorable things, and he would be in that bas­ket,” Lindsay Lukas said — an al­lu­sion to pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton’s de­scrip­tion of some of Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump’s sup­port­ers as a “bas­ket of de­plorables.”

Paige Getty, se­nior minister of the Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist Con­gre­ga­tion of Columbia, said she was dis­ap­pointed that Fitzger­ald wouldn’t re­sign.

“There is no place in the sher­iff’s of­fice for dis­crim­i­na­tion and racism,” she said.

Janelle Bruce, youth pas­tor of St. John Bap­tist Church in Columbia, said the pub­lic should have been al­lowed into the news con­fer­ence, and the sher­iff should have an­swered ques­tions.

“It’s not OK,” she said. “It’s not the way a pub­lic of­fi­cial be­haves, and he’s a pub­lic of­fi­cial.”

John McMa­hon, wholost to Fitzger­ald in the last elec­tion, tried to at­tend the news con­fer­ence but was turned away by a deputy. He has filed a law­suit al­leg­ing that Fitzger­ald did not take the oath of of­fice and does not main­tain a per­ma­nent res­i­dence in Howard County.

McMa­hon said the al­le­ga­tions in the Of­fice of Hu­man Rights re­port seem “very plau­si­ble.”

“The re­port speaks for it­self,” McMa­hon said.

Fitzger­ald was re-elected in 2014 to a third term as sher­iff. In Howard County, the sher­iff’s of­fice serves war­rants, pro­vides court­house se­cu­rity, trans­ports pris­on­ers and deals with land­lord-ten­ant dis­putes. It is not the county’s pri­mary law en­force­ment agency.

The al­le­ga­tions of racism and calls for im­peach­ment are only the most re­cent trou­bles for Fitzger­ald.

The county au­di­tor found this year that sher­iff’s of­fice em­ploy­ees used union leave im­prop­erly to as­sist Fitzger­ald’s re-elec­tion cam­paign.

The au­di­tor said the 182 hours of leave were worth $7,823, and amounted to “county-sub­si­dized cam­paign la­bor” for the sher­iff.

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