The U.S. Justice Department has waded into a racially charged legal battle that has torn apart a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, seeking to join a lawsuit brought by three former Pocomoke City police officials who allege they were the victims of racial bias and retaliation, reports the Washington Post. Pocomoke’s first black police chief, Kelvin Sewell, former lieutenant Lynell Green and former detective Franklin Savage sued in federal court in January, alleging an “unchecked pattern and practice of virulent” discrimination by city, county and state officials after each was fired for supporting claims first raised by Savage.
Sewell and Green were indicted in July on charges of misconduct by Maryland prosecutors for allegedly interfering with the investigation of a 2014 car accident. The officers denied the charges and contend the indictment was retaliation after their lawsuit. “Federal law protects against discrimination and retaliation in the workplace,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, asking to intervene in the trio’s private lawsuit. “In police departments, that protection is vital not only for individual officials, but also for the communities they serve.” The federal complaint asks for a court order that would require Pocomoke City, a county sheriff, and the state of Maryland to implement policies and procedures to eliminate discrimination and retaliatory conduct. The federal complaint also seeks monetary compensation to the three officers for “damages caused by the alleged discrimination.”