Three black Pocomoke City, Md., police officers have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming racial discrimination that, according to the suit, “‘most Americans would have believed unthinkable in the second decade of the 21st century,’” the New York Times reports.
According to the report, the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Baltimore on Thursday, stems from the firing of former Police Chief Kelvin Sewell. Sewell claims he was fired in June for refusing to fire two other officers, who are also plaintiffs in the suit, after they complained about discrimination.
The action details the allegedly hostile environment that Sewell and the two other officers were subject to, including allegations of “racial mockery, epithets, threats, humiliation and discrimination,” by law enforcement in Pocomoke City and Worcester County.
Defendants named in the suit, according to the Times, include Pocomoke City, the state’s attorney in Worcester County, the Pocomoke City Police Department, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department and the Maryland State Police.
The Times reports that it all began with Pocomoke Officer Franklin Savage, one of the plaintiffs in the case, who was assigned to work with a regional drug task force.
During a period spanning two years, members of the task force allegedly harassed Savage, using racial slurs in his presence, taking him to a street they dubbed “KKK Lane” and putting a fake food stamp with a picture of President Barack Obama on his desk drawer, among other incidents. In one case, members of the task force allegedly put a bloody deer’s tail on the windshield of Savage’s car.
Savage complained about the harassment and then claims he was “railroaded out of law enforcement in Worcester County”: His duties were restricted, and ultimately he was “blackballed from testifying in criminal cases” by Worcester County’s state’s attorney, who is white, the Times notes. Sewell, who was chief at the time, was pressured by city officials to fire Savage, but refused.
Savage and Sewell were both ultimately terminated.
The third plaintiff, Lt. Lynell Green, is still on the Pocomoke police force but says he has been subject to “repeated acts of retaliation,” the suit alleges, since he attended a mediation hearing about a discrimination claim that Savage filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The suit claims that both Sewell and Savage were “wrongfully fired,” and seeks their reinstatement as well as back pay and damages for all three plaintiffs.