The city manager in Pocomoke City resigned on Jan. 30 after just 10 days on the job due to fallout from her role overseeing an investigation of the death of a 19-year-old black youth in police custody.
Jeannette DeLude had been town manager in Greensboro, another Eastern Shore community, in September 2018, when Anton Black died after being pursued by local police officers.
Within days of finding out about DeLude’s new job, the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black, the ACLU of Maryland and the Worcester County branch of the NAACP, shot off a letter to Pocomoke City officials, criticizing DeLude’s hiring. They also appeared at a contentious City Council meeting in late January.
DeLude wound up resigning on Jan. 30.
In their letter to Pocomoke City officials, DeLude’s critics mentioned, among other things, Greensboro’s decision to hire Thomas Webster IV, a police officer involved in the pursuit of Black, whose hiring was later criticized by state officials.
“Ms. DeLude was the Greensboro Town Manager throughout this scandal, including during Officer Webster’s problematic hiring, at the time of Anton’s death, during the Town’s attempts to silence public calls for information and accountability, during Officer Webster’s investigation by the state,” the letter states. “… Although she has not been implicated criminally, Ms. DeLude’s conduct during the entire matter is troubling, and she might be among those involved in expected civil rights litigation,” the letter says.
The team also questioned DeLude’s contention that a “thorough background check” was conducted when former Greensboro Police chief Michael Petyo hired Webster, an expelled police officer from Delaware. Webster was the first police officer to come into contact with Black on the September 2018 night when he died after being chased by police officers.
Petyo resigned from the Greensboro Police Department in January 2019.
A year later Petyo pleaded guilty to charges of malfeasance in office brought by Maryland State Prosecutor Charlton Howard III. Petyo was found guilty of excluding disciplinary reports from Webster’s hiring application he sent to the state for police certification approval. He was sentenced to a suspended two-year prison sentence and three years of supervised probation.
Webster lost his police certification and ultimately his job. He was forced to resign from the Greensboro Police Department last summer.
Since the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black formed in December 2018, three former Greensboro employees have resigned from their jobs as a result of their roles in the Black case.
Pocomoke City is operating under a federal Consent decree for racial discrimination claims brought by three African-American members of the city’s police force, which includes its former police chief.
DeLude previously told Maryland Matters that Webster had been thoroughly vetted before his 2018 hiring. Later she said she relied solely on Petyo’s word.
News reports circulated for months in Delaware in 2015 and 2016 when Webster was on trial for assaulting an African American man in his custody, leaving the man with a concussion and broken jaw. As part of a legal settlement, Webster agreed to never seek work again as a law enforcement officer in Dover, Del.
The issue resurfaced again in late 2017 and early 2018, when Greensboro residents urged the town not to hire Webster. They feared if they did, someone of color in their community would end up dead.
DeLude called Webster the “most qualified” candidate for the job at the time, according to the complaint letter sent to Pocomoke City officials.
On Sept. 15, 2018, Black was stopped by Webster as he was walking down a local road with a 12-year-old boy, a cousin by marriage, that he had known for years. A 911 caller reported Black dragging the boy down a rural country road against his will. Moments later, Webster was joined by two off-duty police officers and a civilian, as they chased Black to his mother’s home less than a quarter-of-a-mile away.
The authors of the Pocomoke City Jan. 23 complaint letter urged the city to release DeLude.
Coalition members also attended a Jan. 28 Pocomoke City Council meeting, to pressure the city’s elected officials to fire DeLude.
“You need to terminate her effective immediately given the current state of the city of Pocomoke,” Coalition for Justice for Anton Black co-founder Richard Potter told the council.
Two days later, DeLude resigned. Her last day of work as the Pocomoke City manager was Jan. 30, Jeff Gleason, the town’s human resources director said.
Gleason said legal counsel has advised the city against commenting further on DeLude’s departure. Efforts to reach DeLude for this article were unsuccessful.
For articles related to the case of Anton Black, who died in September 2018 following a struggle with Eastern Shore police, click here.
Glynis Kazanjian is a freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected]