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Howard County executive calls for impeachment of Sheriff James Fitzgerald

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Posted at 11:37 AM, Sep 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-30 08:29:17-04

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman is asking state delegates to look into impeachment options for Sheriff James Fitzgerald. 

A recent report from the Howard County Office of Human Rights alleged Fitzgerald used racial slurs and belittled staff. Elected leaders and protestors called for his resignation as early as last week, but Thursday morning, Fitzgerald said he would remain on the job.

“I will continue to serve the citizens of Howard County. I hope that you as the community, citizens, friends, co-workers, will help me, allow me to do the job, continue to do the job that I'm elected to do,” said Sheriff Fitzgerald.

The sheriff gave a brief statement and didn't take any questions from reporters. During the press conference, protestors were out in the rain calling for his resignation.

“Sheriff Fitzgerald needs to resign, he needs to step down. It's not acceptable to have a racist, sexist person in office,” said Reverend Janelle Bruce, a pastor for St. John Baptist Church.

Officials expressed their disappointment in his refusal to resign. In a statement, Howard County Council chairperson Calvin Ball wrote, in part:

"Despite your refusal to resign, this letter is to inform you that I can no longer recognize you as the Sheriff of Howard County.  Should you continue to fail to resign, I will ask the County Executive and the Governor to explore alternative means of fulfilling the functions of your office."

RELATED: Howard County leaders call for sheriff's resignation following discrimination report

Fitzgerald said Thursday morning the report was "humbling and hurtful," and said he's committed to diversifying the Sheriff's Office.

“Currently our office has 69 filled positions, of that number, 19 positions are filled by African-Americas. Of the 19 positions, 14 positions were hired during my 10 years as sheriff,” Fitzgerald said.

The Office of Human Rights also found instances of Sheriff Fitzgerald making derogatory comments about females and Jewish people.

“This is a very clear, obvious, case where someone who is armed and has a great deal of power is being very obviously racist and sexist and we need to say no, you can't continue to be armed and given power over other people,” said Kay Henry, a protester.

But since Fitzgerald is not resigning, officials are reviewing their options. County Executive Allan Kittleman asked the Howard County state delegation to explore the possibility of impeachment.

"Earlier this morning, despite the bipartisan requests from myself, four past county executives, numerous elected officials and the community at large, Sheriff Fitzgerald announced his intention to remain in office," Kittleman wrote to Sen. Guy Guzzone and Del. Vanessa Atterbeary.  

State lawmakers have the authority to impeach state officers and judges, Kittleman wrote. 

"I urge you to explore this option as a remedy," Kittleman wrote. "I recognize that impeachment of any elected official is an extreme step, one that should not be taken in haste. But 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." 

However, impeachment could be difficult. According to an article published in the Maryland Bar Journal in 2000, no one has ever been impeached in Maryland's history. And according to the Maryland Constitution Article III, Section 26, "The House of Delegates shall have the sole power of impeachment in all cases; but a majority of all the members elected must concur in the impeachment."

There would also need to be a trial held in the Senate, and "no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of all the Senators elected."

Former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman also released a statement Thursday, saying he was "deeply disappointed" by the sheriff's refusal to resign. Ulman also called for his impeachment. 

Here is his full statement: 

Today could have been the first step in rebuilding trust within our community, instead Sheriff Fitzgerald regrettably has chosen to put himself first by not resigning. The fact that we have people in positions of authority who think and behave this way in 2016, shows that we still have more work to do as a society. I am deeply disappointed that the Sheriff has not resigned, and I support the call for his impeachment.Today could have been the first step in rebuilding trust within our community, instead Sheriff Fitzgerald regrettably has chosen to put himself first by not resigning. The fact that we have people in positions of authority who think and behave this way in 2016, shows that we still have more work to do as a society. I am deeply disappointed that the Sheriff has not resigned, and I support the call for his impeachment.

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