Kelvin Sewell and Stephen Janis Talk Police Chief Firing in The Friendliest Town Doc [Exclusive Interview]

Kelvin Sewell
Kelvin Sewell in The Friendliest Town Documentary

Pocomoke City may call itself “the friendliest town on the Eastern Shore.”

However, this small town in Maryland was broiled in a civil and political battle after the firing of its police chief Kelvin Sewell.

In this timely investigative social justice documentary, The Friendliest Town, journalist and author Stephen Janis explores the unfounded firing of Sewell and the community support for their former police chief. The film explores the thin racial lines of the town community and the aftermath of the legal issues that may change the city forever.

Here’s the long synopsis of the film:

In 2011, the city of roughly 4,000 people which is equally split along racial lines, hired Kelvin Sewell, its first African-American police chief. Sewell, a former Baltimore city homicide investigator, and narcotics officer had grown tired of the aggressive tactics used by the Baltimore Police Department, particularly those targeting black communities.

Determined to deploy a different approach to law enforcement, Sewell implemented an intensive community policing plan. He and his officers parked their cars and walked the streets. They got to know residents; they built relationships with people who had been subjected to harsh police tactics and the failing war-on-drugs mindset.

Sewell’s system worked: crime plummeted. Residents, both black and white, became ardent supporters of Sewell’s new paradigm of policing. It seemed all was well. Yet a conflict was brewing that would turn the city upside down; an ongoing dispute over racial discrimination engulfed Sewell and his officers in a battle that would not only cost them their jobs and professional reputations but would thrust them into an emotional legal battle that would touch all segments of the community. Award-winning The Real News Network reporters Stephen Janis and Taya Graham, traveled over 45 times to the small town on Maryland’s lower eastern shore, making the 3.5-hour trip to cover council meetings, interview residents, and document the political awakening of the town’s African-American community.

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LRM Online’s Gig Patta chatted with director Stephen Janis and former Pocomoke City police chief Kelvin Sewell about the documentary and the events.

Before serving as Pocomoke City police chief, Kelvin Sewell served as an investigator in Baltimore’s homicide unit. Also, he served in a variety of capacities, including shooting investigations, narcotics, and a stint with the DEA. During his tenure as police chief, there was not a single homicide in Pocomoke City.

Stephen Janis is an investigative reporter covering policing, politics, and poverty. He hosted TRNN’s Police Accountability Report. Also, he produced and co-created the award-winning podcast Truth and Reconciliation on Baltimore’s NPR affiliate WYPR. As an author, he wrote “Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore,” “You Can’t Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond,” and “The Book of Cop: A Testament to Policing That Works. Additionally, he appeared in Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries: Mystery on the Rooftop, and the documentary Fit to Print.

The Friendliest Town documentary is now available today.

Watch the exclusive interview below. Let us know what you think.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive, Gravitas Ventures

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