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Former city police officer fighting to get her job back

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By Jesef Williams

A former Lancaster police officer is looking to get her job back after reportedly making derogatory racial comments about a coworker last month.

Sandy Sowell, a corporal who’s worked for the Lancaster Police Department for more than 22 years, was fired March 12 for what she said about Pamela Richardson, an administrative assistant at the police department.

Sowell filed a grievance with the city March 19.

Earlier that month, Sowell was having a discussion with co-worker Mary Mickles about Richardson, who was out of work due to an illness, Police Chief Hugh White said.

Mickles said Sowell said the following: “She ain’t nothing but a ghetto (n-word). She doesn’t want to work.”

Mickles said she walked away after hearing that.

“I couldn’t believe she said that about her,” Mickles said. “It really bothered me.”

Similar testimonies, a presentation from White and one from Sowell were all shared during Sowell’s grievance hearing Tuesday at City Hall.

The grievance hearing could have been held in open or closed session. It was Sowell’s choice to have it in open session.

The grievance committee consists of six city employees.

During the hearing, the police chief was unapologetic for Sowell’s firing, saying Sowell used the harshest racial slur there is.

“It’s highly offensive and will not be tolerated in the workplace,” White said.

Mickles said Sowell used the same racial epithet  when talking about Richardson before – about two months prior to the March incident.  White read a written statement from records clerk Melvenia Hilton-Jones, also indicating Sowell had used the word in the past.

Sowell, who worked in records with Hilton-Jones, said what she said was not a fact, but just a “general observation.”

Sowell referenced the First Amendment and acknowledged using the racial epithet.

However, she said she didn’t mean ill will and said she has apologized to Richardson.

Sowell said she’s heard the racial epithet used many times in her line of work and asked the city to research other internal charges and their resolutions before making a decision on her case.  

“To my knowledge, my record is clear,” Sowell said. “I believe I have served the people and the city of Lancaster with respect.”

Richardson said she and Sowell had been on good terms and doesn’t understand why she made those comments.

“I’m confused, aggravated and hurt and I don’t know which way to turn,” she said. “I can’t deal with this by myself.”

The grievance committee has 20 days from the hearing to report to the city’s municipal clerk.

City Council will then vote on the matter.

Contact reporter  Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1152