Four months after the first black police chief of Pocomoke City, Md., was fired, the African American officer whose initial complaints of discrimination led to departmental turmoil has also been terminated.
Franklin Savage, 35, who had been a Pocomoke City police officer since 2011, said he was fired after he complained that the state’s attorney repeatedly used “the n-word” during a meeting last year about a case that he was prosecuting.
“I didn’t do anything but tell the truth. I’m being punished for telling the truth,” said Savage, who said he was told Oct. 26 that he was being fired because his “integrity” had been called into question. “The city manager was like, ‘If you can’t testify in court, you can’t be a police officer. I believe my integrity was called into question because I filed an [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] complaint against the state’s attorney.”
His attorney, Andrew G. McBride, said Savage “has been the victim of relentless retaliation by the city of Pocomoke and the state’s attorney for Worcester County, Beau Oglesby” — allegations denied by the city and Oglesby.
McBride also represents Kelvin Sewell, the former Pocomoke City police chief who was terminated June 29 after refusing to fire Savage and another black officer who alleged discrimination. Sewell’s termination generated an outcry in the racially mixed city of 4,000, which bills itself as the “friendliest town on the Eastern Shore.” In September, the city hired William Harden, an African American who worked for the Maryland State Police for 25 years, as its new police chief.
Oglesby could not be reached for comment. But in a response to the allegations dated Nov. 24, 2014, he wrote that during a meeting in which he, Savage and the assistant state’s attorney discussed evidence seized from a house during a search warrant, he read a letter that was collected during the search.
“As part of that examination, I read the two letters that were found in the room,” Oglesby wrote. “They were read verbatim with no inflection. The content was not redacted as the letters would not be redacted if introduced in trial. As a result, the words ‘nigga,’ ‘niggas’ or ‘niggaz’ were read eight times.”
Oglesby wrote that midway through reading the letters, “in recognition that the words might be offensive to anyone in the room, I offered for anyone offended by these words the opportunity to leave the meeting without needing to offer an explanation as to why.”
At no time, Oglesby said, did Savage indicate to him or others that he was offended. “He never left the room,” Oglesby wrote. “He never indicated in verbal or non-verbal terms any dissatisfaction with the case in review.”
He called Savage’s allegations of a hostile work environment an “absolute fabrication.”
Savage first filed a complaint against Oglesby to the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission on July 22, 2014, McBride said. He later added it to a discrimination complaint with the EEOC.
Ernie Crofoot, who was appointed city manager and city attorney in August, said Pocomoke City denied any allegations that Savage was fired because of his complaints.
“He wasn’t fired because of his race,” Crofoot said in an interview. “He wasn’t fired because of any disciplinary matters. He wasn’t fired because of any EEOC claims. That is all I’m allowed to say.”
Savage had filed two earlier complaints with the EEOC, claiming that he faced overt racism while he was detailed to the Worcester County Criminal Enforcement Team. The eight-member task force consisted of officers from Ocean City, Dorchester County, the state police and Pocomoke City. Savage was the only African American assigned to it.
Savage alleged in a complaint that during his two years on the task force, he was subjected to racism and discrimination, including the repeated use of the n-word, references to the Ku Klux Klan, a bloody deer tail left on his windshield and a food stamp with Obama’s face superimposed left on his desk. Savage also complained about a text he received from a corporal that said, “What is ya body count nigga?”
The state police’s Criminal Enforcement Division found that Savage’s complaints against the corporal were justified and wrote in a letter that the offender would be punished.
Savage also complained about the state’s attorney’s decision to read the letter that included the n-word during the April 2014 meeting.
“He kept repeating the word. . . . I felt like it was directed at me,” Savage said. “He didn’t have to read. I was just shocked he was doing this. . . . I experienced it at the task force. I never thought I would experience it at the state’s attorney.”
Savage claimed that an African American assistant state’s attorney, Ajene Turnbull, stood up and walked out. But Oglesby denied that Turnbull was there and produced a letter from Turnbull confirming that he was not.
“They claim that he was never in the room when the letter was read,” McBride said. “They said, ‘Your client was not truthful. Turnbull was never in the room.’ ”
Turnbull could not be reached for comment.
In other developments in Pocomoke, the state Open Meeting Compliance Board found that the Pocomoke City Council had violated the open meeting act when it excluded members of the media from a July 13 council meeting.
The compliance board found that the city acted properly when it met behind closed doors to discuss whether to terminate the chief. “The ‘personnel exception’ permits public bodies to meet behind closed doors to discuss the removal, discipline, resignation or performance of their employees,” the board wrote.