Howard County Sheriff James F. Fitzgerald is resigning over allegations that he made racist, sexist and anti-Semitic remarks and bullied those who worked for him.
Fitzgerald, a Democrat serving his third term as sheriff, will step down Saturday, according to a statement released Tuesday by County Council Chair Calvin Ball (D). Fitzgerald had been under intense pressure to resign for weeks, including public protests and threats of impeachment by the county’s elected leaders.
The announcement of Fitzgerald’s resignation came just minutes after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) had called for the sheriff to step down.
“I’m very disturbed by the comments,” Hogan said. “I do believe he should resign. I share the opinions of many of the people who think he should resign.”
Under the state’s constitution, the governor will appoint a person to serve out the remaining two years of Fitzgerald’s term.
Fitzgerald, who earned $91,000 a year and managed a department of 69 people, did not respond to a request for comment.
Last month, the county’s Office of Human Rights issued a 48-page report that accused Fitzgerald of disparaging the intelligence of black deputies, using racist gestures and often describing African Americans as “n-----s.” Fitzgerald also allegedly made derogatory comments about women’s breasts and Jewish people, calling former county executive Ken Ulman (D) “little Kenny Jew-boy.”
The human rights investigation was launched in response to a complaint by one of the sheriff’s deputies, who claimed that he had been retaliated against for refusing to support Fitzgerald’s reelection campaign. The deputy later resigned.
The Office of Human Rights report shocked many in a community renowned for its inclusiveness and its “Choose Civility” bumper stickers. The county consistently ranks among the wealthiest counties in the nation, and Columbia, its largest city, was founded in the 1960s as a planned community promoting racial tolerance.
Published days after Money magazine ranked Columbia as No. 1 in its “Best Place to Live 2016,” the report led to several days of protests and calls from politicians across the political spectrum for the sheriff to resign.
In a Sept. 29 news conference, Fitzgerald called the report “humbling, hurtful and disappointing” but refused to step down.
That same day, County Executive Allan H. Kittleman (R) sent a letter to state lawmakers urging them to investigate whether Fitzgerald could be impeached. Maryland’s constitution allows the General Assembly to impeach state elected officials. Although sheriffs are elected by county, they are considered agents of the state.
Even if legislators had moved to impeach Fitzgerald, the proceedings would not have begun until the spring. Similarly, attempts to defund the sheriff’s office — which acts primarily as an arm of the court system, transporting prisoners and issuing summons — would not have taken effect until next year.
In his statement Tuesday, Ball said it had been “a difficult process” convincing the sheriff to resign.
“I spoke with him about the pain of our community and how we needed to turn the page on this chapter of prejudice,” Ball said. “I believed from the instant the issue came to light that resignation was the only option, and I needed the sheriff to see that as well. After extensive negotiations, I am pleased to announce the attorneys for all parties have shared with me that a conciliation agreement in principle has been reached.”
As part of that agreement, the sheriff’s deputy who filed the complaint will be reinstated and given back pay, Ball said.
Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.