Amid calls to re­sign, sher­iff to step down

Howard Co. re­port al­leged ha­rass­ment and re­tal­i­a­tion

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Pamela Wood

Em­bat­tled Howard County Sher­iff James F. Fitzger­ald, ac­cused of us­ing big­oted lan­guage, ha­rass­ing em­ploy­ees and re­tal­i­at­ing against those who didn’t sup­port his re-elec­tion, has agreed to re­sign after a decade in of­fice, county of­fi­cials said Tues­day.

Fitzger­ald, a Demo­crat who faced bi­par­ti­san calls to quit, signed an agree­ment Tues­day to re­sign within 30 days, County Ex­ec­u­tive Al­lan Kit­tle­man said. His last day of work will be Satur­day.

“I think it’s a good thing for the cit­i­zens of Howard County,” said Kit­tle­man, a Repub­li­can. “I want to com­mend ev­ery­one in the com­mu­nity for stand­ing up when they learned about the sher­iff’s ac­tions and his com­ments. I think it was be­cause of our to­tal com­mu­nity com­ing to­gether ... that led to this day.”

Nei­ther Fitzger­ald nor his rep­re­sen­ta­tives re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment on Tues­day. An em­ployee who an­swered the phone at the sher­iff’s of­fice Tues­day Fitzger­ald

said Fitzger­ald was not likely to re­turn a mes­sage.

In his lone pub­lic state­ment on the con­tro­versy, Fitzger­ald apol­o­gized last month for the at­mos­phere caused by the ac­cu­sa­tions, but not for his ac­tions. He said at the time that he would not step down.

Kit­tle­man was one of more than two dozen cur­rent and for­mer elected of­fi­cials who had called on Fitzger­ald to step down.

The pres­sure had been build­ing since a re­port by the county’s Of­fice of Hu­man Rights that de­tailed al­le­ga­tions of dis­crim­i­na­tion, ha­rass­ment and re­tal­i­a­tion was made pub­lic last month.

The re­port was the re­sult of a year­long in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a com­plaint brought by a lieu­tenant in the sher­iff’s of­fice. In­ves­ti­ga­tors said they found “rea­son­able cause” to believe that Fitzger­ald, 69, had dis­crim­i­nated against Lt. Charles M. Gable by ma­nip­u­lat­ing his as­sign­ments and work sched­ules.

They de­tailed ac­cu­sa­tions that Fitzger­ald used racist and vul­gar lan­guage and sys­tem­at­i­cally re­tal­i­ated against some em­ploy­ees while pro­mot­ing oth­ers who sup­ported him.

Fitzger­ald told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he hadn’t done any­thing wrong. He said he was sim­ply a “loud New Yorker.”

Gov. Larry Ho­gan will be charged with nam­ing a re­place­ment to com­plete Fitzger­ald’s term, which ends in 2018.

The Howard County sher­iff’s of­fice pro­vides court­house se­cu­rity, serves war­rants, trans­ports pris­on­ers and ad­dresses land­lord-ten­ant dis­putes. It is not the county’s pri­mary law en­force­ment agency.

Fitzger­ald, first elected in 2006, made $91,000 per year. He is not re­ceiv­ing any fi­nan­cial pay­ment to re­sign, Kit­tle­man said, but will have some sort of pen­sion ben­e­fit.

Howard County Coun­cil Chair­man Calvin Ball said he helped bro­ker the agree­ment that led to Fitzger­ald’s res­ig­na­tion.

Ball said “press re­leases and blus­ter might help” force out Fitzger­ald, but he de­cided to make a per­sonal ap­peal to the sher­iff that step­ping down was the best course of ac­tion.

Ball said he didn’t dis­cuss the na­ture of the ac­cu­sa­tions with the sher­iff.

“I think it was less im­por­tant to hear rea­sons or ex­cuses and more im­por­tant to help move for­ward,” said Ball, a Demo­crat.

Un­der the agree­ment, Gable is to be re­in­stated.

Gable, who likened Fitzger­ald’s man­age­ment to a “reign of ter­ror,” re­signed this year dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He will now re­ceive $58,350 in back pay.

“[Gable] is pleased to have the mat­ter re­solved and is look­ing for­ward to re­turn­ing to the sher­iff’s of­fice,” said his at­tor­ney, Joseph T. Mal­lon Jr. of Bal­ti­more. “He’s cer­tainly pleased the com­mu­nity of Howard County has no tol­er­ance for in­tol­er­ance. He’s glad that he stood up to the sher­iff.”

Kit­tle­man called Gable “the real hero” and lauded him for lodg­ing the com­plaint about Fitzger­ald.

“I think maybe peo­ple were up­set, but kept quiet,” Kit­tle­man said.

The Of­fice of Hu­man Rights re­port was the first time that many in Howard County learned of Fitzger­ald’s al­leged be­hav­ior.

The 48-page re­port in­cluded scores of al­le­ga­tions against the sher­iff. He was ac­cused of us­ing a slur for AfricanAmer­i­cans and call­ing for­mer County Ex­ec­u­tive Ken Ul­man “lit­tle Kenny Jew­boy.”

The re­port al­leged the sher­iff told one Howard County Ex­ec­u­tive Al­lan Kit­tle­man was one of many elected of­fi­cials who called for Sher­iff James Fitzger­ald to re­sign. em­ployee: “African-Amer­i­can deputies are not too smart, but they get the job done.”

It’s not im­me­di­ately clear who will run the sher­iff’s of­fice after Oct. 15. Fitzger­ald’s sec­ond-in-com­mand, Maj. Ge­orge Voll, re­tired this month, ac­cord­ing to Kit­tle­man.

Kit­tle­man said he hopes Ho­gan will work quickly to name a re­place­ment. Ho­gan is not bound to pick an­other Demo­crat to re­place him.

The al­le­ga­tions against Fitzger­ald in­fu­ri­ated many in Howard County, where mo­torists dec­o­rate their cars with “Choose Ci­vil­ity” bumper stick­ers and the largest com­mu­nity, Columbia, was founded on ideals of equal­ity.

Just days be­fore the re­port be­came pub­lic, Money magazine named Columbia — “a planned com­mu­nity that prizes eco­nomic and so­cial di­ver­sity” — the best place to live in Amer­ica.

Demon­stra­tors have protested against Fitzger­ald out­side the sher­iff’s of­fice in Columbia and the county court­house in El­li­cott City. A group of African-Amer­i­can lead­ers had planned a news con­fer­ence for Thurs­day to press for his res­ig­na­tion.

Ho­gan on Tues­day be­came the lat­est of­fi­cial to call on Fitzger­ald to step down. He said he was “very dis­turbed” by the com­ments noted in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Be­fore win­ning his first elec­tion as sher­iff in 2006, Fitzger­ald was a Howard County po­lice of­fi­cer.

The Of­fice of Hu­man Rights in­ves­ti­ga­tion was the lat­est bout of trou­ble for Fitzger­ald. The county au­di­tor found this year that sher­iff’s of­fice em­ploy­ees used union leave im­prop­erly to as­sist in his 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.

Fitzger­ald also is the sub­ject of a law­suit from John McMa­hon, who lost to the sher­iff in the last elec­tion. McMa­hon al­leges that Fitzger­ald did not take the oath of of­fice and does not main­tain a per­ma­nent res­i­dence in Howard County. The law­suit is pend­ing in Anne Arun­del County Cir­cuit Court.


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