The Maryland delegation rejoices: Howard County Sheriff James Fitzgerald (D-MD) has resigned. WBAL reported on October 12 that Fitzgerald was relinquishing his position after the “I-Team obtained an internal report that detailed a hostile work environment, retaliatory firings and more.” The internal report was from the Howard County Office of Human Rights (OHR), which accuses the Sheriff of discriminating against Lieutenant Charles Gable among others. Sheriff Fitzgerald discovered that Lieutenant Gable did not support his campaign for re-election and then utilized his authority to exercise hostility against Gable. This hostility ranged from “less favorable work schedules” to “verbal berating and profanity-laced remarks.” As a result, the Sheriff was threatened with impeachment and was pressured to resign. Maryland elected officials such as Governor Hogan (R-MD) and Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman (R-MD) were vocal advocates of Fitzgerald’s removal. Their efforts were successful. October 15 was the Sheriff’s final day in office.
James Fitzgerald’s behavior was found to be degrading to minorities and unprofessional. The OHR substantiated claims that he “made negative comments, gestures, and/or derogatory epithets against African Americans as well as other employees…” through testimonies of officers. The former Sheriff refuted these accusations, he denies engaging in any of the previously mentioned discriminatory acts, claiming he is “just ‘a loud New Yorker.’” WBAL also states that the OHR report sustains allegations of distasteful comments by Fitzgerald about women and Jews.
These comments allegedly include addressing former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman as “little Kenny Jew-Boy” and claiming that deputies on his police force of African American heritage “are not too smart, but they get the job done.”
These comments, once publicized, sparked outrage in Howard County amongst the executive branches of government, the state legislator, and the general public. According to the Baltimore Sun, “More than two dozen politicians from both parties called on Fitzgerald to resign. Howard County’s state senators and delegates had begun researching whether the General Assembly could impeach him.” National level representatives have also take note. Representatives Cummings, Ruppersberger and Sarbanes, alongside Senators Cardin and Mikulski (all D-MD) publicly called for Fitzgerald’s resignation.
Allan Kittleman spoke to the reaction after Fitzgerald resigned in a speech on Wednesday: “James Fitzgerald has agreed to resign… I think that is a good thing for the citizens of Howard County, I want to thank everyone 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, both republican and democrats, community leaders, residents all complaining and being very concerned about this that lead to this day.”
Fitzgerald is trying to “move on” from the controversy. As of October 20, Fitzgerald has not formally apologized. According to the Baltimore Sun in a subsequent press conference he “did not directly address the accusations detailed in (the) scathing report…”
Kittleman emphasized the importance of moral law enforcement: “With what is happening around our country dealing with law enforcement, it is really important that we have someone running our sheriff’s department who is beyond reproach, someone who the people trust, and can manage an office effectively.” Around the country there is turmoil in the criminal justice system, a dilemma that is increasingly part of the national political dialogue that of St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Many St. Mary’s students share the outrage felt as a result of this incident. When asked for their opinions on the sheriff’s resignation, these students all expressed a similar sentiment. This is not the behavior they expect out of their county.
“As someone who grew up in Howard county my whole life and had the belief that we were somehow away or separated from the racial discrimination that is present in the rest of the country, I find it shocking and disturbing that an elected official could represent our community in that way,” stated junior Michael von der Lippe.
Sophomore Fergus Hall, who grew up Howard County, was repulsed by the Sheriff’s comments: “It’s disgusting to hear about an elected official in your own community behaving in this manner. It’s just another sign of the underlying problem of racism in the U.S. that has yet to be addressed fully or taken seriously by many officials.”
Junior Robert Thompson remarked: “I feel like there is a generation of police who were trained under a somewhat racist regime, and while not all cops make the news for killing unarmed black men, this goes to show that even in a ‘diverse’ community like Howard county, you’ll always have that generation of people who don’t fully understand racism, or any of those isms.”
Sophomore Mollie Belson added: “It is truly awful and disheartening to see someone, especially the sheriff of our police department, speak this way about many people in his own and my own community. However, there is a great opportunity here. There is a chance to replace this man with someone who is willing and fully able to work together with all members of Howard County to promote unity and a feeling of true safety for everyone.”
Most of the population is aware that racism, misogyny, anti-semitism and other irrational aggressions exist, but rarely do we realize how widespread the issues are. These tendencies are unfortunately ubiquitous, this local example driving that home for many St. Mary’s students.