By MINA HAQ and SYDNEY TONIC
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON – Five Maryland members of Congress on Thursday called on Howard County Sheriff James Fitzpatrick to resign after a year-long county probe alleged he engaged in discriminatory behavior and created a hostile work environment.
Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski and Reps. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, John Sarbanes of Towson and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Timonium signed the letter to Fitzgerald. All are Democrats.
The Howard County Office of Human Rights issued a report Sept. 1 detailing its year-long investigation, saying Fitzgerald directed “racial epithets and slurs” toward employees, colleagues and citizens who were black, gay, Jewish, female or Asian, and used “inappropriate humor based on racial stereotypes.”
In the letter, the lawmakers said they were “appalled” by the report’s findings and called the sheriff’s behavior “unacceptable.”
“As federal elected officials with responsibilities for the people of Howard County, we urge you to prioritize the needs of the residents of the county you serve, as well as the officers under your command, and resign your office,” the lawmakers wrote.
They said the people of Howard County deserve “leadership that understands that bullying, racism, sexism and antisemitism should have no place in American law enforcement.”
Removing an individual who has engaged in offensive behavior helps maintain a mutual relationship between law enforcement and communities, Cardin spokeswoman Sue Walitsky said in a phone interview with Capital News Service.
“Law enforcement is there to protect the community, the people it serves, and it’s important for the community to know that the law enforcement officers respect them,” Walitsky said.
Mikulski declined through her office to comment further, and the other lawmakers were unavailable for comment.
Remarks reported to investigators included Fitzgerald allegedly turning to his African-American deputy and sarcastically saying, “Are you getting the chicken special?” and telling the African-American president of the Retired Police Officer’s Association, “I voted for your ‘boy’ Obama.”
Fitzgerald also allegedly said African-American deputies “are not too smart but they get the job done,” according to the report.
Fitzgerald denied the accusations, and said at a Sept. 29 news conference the report was “humbling, hurtful and disappointing for all involved,” The Baltimore Sun reported.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman also called for Fitzgerald’s resignation. When the third-term sheriff said at the news conference he had no intention of leaving his position, Kittleman urged lawmakers to explore impeaching him.
“The offensive actions and behavior documented in the OHR report are so grossly contrary to the shared values of inclusion and respect for all that we hold dear in Howard County that I see no other recourse,” Kittleman said in a letter to Howard County Democratic Del. Vanessa Atterbeary and state Sen. Guy Guzzone, also a Democrat.
The Maryland House of Delegates has sole power to impeach state officers and judges, according to the state constitution, and a majority of all members must approve any bill of impeachment.
Maryland’s federal lawmakers in their letter urged Fitzgerald to allow the sheriff’s office to move forward with different leadership.
“At a time when trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve has been strained in Maryland and nationwide, we hope you will do the right thing,” they wrote.