By Stephen Janis and Taya Graham
Special to the AFRO
A small Eastern Shore town that fired its first Black police chief amid allegations of racism is under fire again after hiring a new city manager from a nearby community, who was also embroiled in a scandal involving policing and race.
The Pocomoke City Council approved the appointment of Jeanette DeLude as the town’s new city manager last week. She takes over a city now under a federal consent decree, which requires the town to address a history of discrimination and retaliation against African American employees, through new policy and reform.
The hiring comes shortly after the city settled a federal discrimination lawsuit brought by its former Police Chief Kelvin Sewell, who was fired by the council in 2015 without explanation. The settlement includes a consent decree which require the city to implement new policies to handle discrimination claims.
But, it is DeLude ‘s previous role as city manager of Greensboro, Md., another small town on the Eastern Shore that has raised concerns from Pocomoke’s Black residents. During her tenure in Greensboro the town was mired in controversy after the death of Anton Black, an African American teen, during an arrest.
“This is a thoughtless move that will surely deserve further scrutiny,” Rev. James Jones, a member of Citizens for Better Pocomoke, told the AFRO.
“We as a community must fight this hiring.”
Black was chased by police after a White woman called 911 claiming he had kidnapped a 12-year old boy. The alleged victim was his cousin. A video of Black’s initial encounter with police obtained by The AFRO shows Black and the boy walking side-by-side prior to being stopped.
After Black fled two White police officers and a civilian subsequently confronted Black at his mother’s home. There they forced him to the ground. Soon thereafter Black became unresponsive and was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
The state medical examiner ruled his death an accident. But Cyril Wecht, a noted independent pathologist consulted by the AFRO said he died from positional asphyxiation. Body camera footage shows one of the officers laying his body across Black’s as the 19-year old track star was restrained near his home.
The Caroline County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute any of the officers involved in Black’s death.
Activists say the evolution of the police department in Greensboro under Delude contributed to more aggressive law enforcement tactics in town with a population of 2,000, roughly 20 percent who are Black; it’s a transformation they say is ill-suited for Pocomoke.
“I think the (Pocomoke) council made a poor decision,” former Talbot County NAACP President Richard Potter told the AFRO.
“It’s not beneficial to the citizens of Pocomoke, especially the African American community.”
Potter, who now heads The Coalition for Justice for Anton Black, says that Delude was not responsive when his organization filed a complaint against the former police Chief of Greensboro, Chief Michael Petyo.
“We in the coalition filed an official complaint as it relates to all of this and she did absolutely nothing about it,” Potter said.
The AFRO recently reported that Petyo will plead guilty to misconduct in office charges related to the hiring of the police officer Thomas Webster. Webster was involved the arrest of Black. Later, it was revealed Petyo concealed roughly two dozen use of force complaints filed against Webster while serving as a police officer in Dover, Del.
Sewell alleged he was fired in 2015 for refusing to fire two black officers who had filed EEOC complaints allege ding discrimination. His firing prompted a federal discrimination lawsuit joined by the Department of Justice. The city settled the lawsuit with Sewell and his former Lieutenant for $650,000.
The decree requires the city to create a plan within 120 days, which will establish a process for employees to file discrimination complaints. The city also has to implement a formal policy to bar retaliation against any employee who makes allegations of racial bias. Mandatory training for employees to educate them on the new policies is also part of the agreement.