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Maryland sheriff resigning over sexist, racist comments

October 11, 2016 - 1:32 PM

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - A sheriff in Maryland has agreed to resign after an investigation found he created a hostile work environment by belittling staffers and making racist and sexist comments, a county official and attorneys announced Tuesday.

Howard County Sheriff James Fitzgerald's last day in office will be Saturday, said Calvin Ball, the chairman of the county council. The sheriff then must retire after 30 days. The agreement also calls for him to reinstate former Lt. Charles Gable, who filed a retaliation complaint a year ago against the sheriff and resigned in February.

"He was universally described as vindictive, arrogant, narcissistic, rude, belligerent, nasty and intimidating," the 48-page report by the county's Office of Human Rights said of the sheriff.

The sheriff denied engaging in discriminatory misconduct, describing himself to investigators as just "a loud New Yorker," the report said.

The report found reasonable cause that Fitzgerald discriminated against Gable, who is white, by retaliating against him through scheduling because Gable didn't support his political campaign for sheriff. The agreement also calls for Gable to receive $58,350 in back pay.

Joseph Mallon, an attorney for Gable, said the sheriff has signed an agreement to resign under the stipulations.

While the investigation centred on Gable's complaint, it found the sheriff engaged in a pattern of belittling people by using racist language with black employees and anti-Semitic language as well, once referring to former County Executive Ken Ulman as "little Kenny Jew-boy."

The investigation noted a variety of offensive comments: "There's no watermelon there for you!" the sheriff reportedly told an African-American at a buffet. On another occasion, while eating with a group, he turned to a black deputy and said: "Are you getting the 'chicken' special?" The report found he also said black deputies "are not too smart but they get the job done," and to the president of the Retired Police Officer's Association, he said: "I voted for your 'boy' Obama," referring to President Barack Obama.

Ball said he approached Fitzgerald seeking his voluntary departure.

"Soon after I read the report and was so concerned about what I had read, I reached out to the sheriff to start talking with him about the importance of starting to heal our community and that he needed to leave that office in order for that to happen," Ball, who is black, said in an interview after announcing the agreement.

Elected officials from both parties condemned the sheriff's comments after the report was made public last month. Republican Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman had asked members of the county's delegation to the Democrat-controlled General Assembly to explore impeaching the sheriff, and lawmakers planned to bring impeachment proceedings against Fitzgerald, who is a Democrat, if he did not resign.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said he too was "very disturbed."

"I do believe he should resign, and I share the opinions of many other people that think he should resign," Hogan said earlier Tuesday, before the agreement was announced.

Howard County, located between the nation's capital and the city of Baltimore, is one of the nation's wealthiest counties, with more than 310,000 residents and one of the nation's most educated workforces.

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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