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Baltimore Police Commissioner De Sousa resigns following tax charges, city looking for 4th chief in 3 years

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By Kevin Rector and Ian Duncan
The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa has resigned and a national search has been launched to find his replacement, Mayor Catherine Pugh’s office announced Tuesday.

“I want to reassure all Baltimoreans that this development in no way alters our strategic efforts to reduce crime by addressing its root causes in our most neglected neighborhoods,” Pugh said in a statement. “This broad-based, grassroots approach — underpinned by the utilization of new crime-fighting technology — is working and will continue to be effective as indicated by the downward trend in violence.”

The announcement comes after De Sousa was charged by federal prosecutors last week with three misdemeanor counts of failing to file federal income tax returns.

De Sousa is not currently incarcerated, but faces up to a year in prison and a $25,000 fine for each charge. His resignation was not just from the commissioner position, but from the department entirely, ending a 30-year career there.

He could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday. One of his attorneys in the federal case declined to comment on his resignation. A date has not been set for his initial appearance in federal court. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Baltimore declined to comment on the resignation.

Deputy Commissioner Gary Tuggle, named acting commissioner Friday after Pugh suspended De Sousa, will now be the interim commissioner, Pugh’s office said. Tuggle could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Police Department command staff “is fully committed to bringing about the reforms to the practices and culture of the department that we are implementing and which are vital to ensuring the trust and confidence of all our citizens,” she said. “As mayor, I will not let up in pursuing my top priority of making our city safe and our neighborhoods worthy of the lives of all residents.”

The federal charges against De Sousa, unsealed Thursday, allege he willfully failed to file federal income tax returns in 2013, 2014 and 2015. De Sousa admitted in a statement on Twitter the same day that he did not file state or federal tax returns in those years, but did have taxes withheld from his police salary.

De Sousa said he had filed returns in 2016 and filed for an extension in 2017. He wrote there was “no excuse” for his failure to “fulfill my obligations as a citizen and public official,” and that his “only explanation” was that he had “failed to sufficiently prioritize my personal affairs.”

Pugh called De Sousa’s failure to file returns a “mistake” Thursday, and said he retained her confidence. But on Friday, she announced his suspension pending the resolution of the case, saying it was in the best interests of the city.

Despite De Sousa’s admitting to not filing his tax returns, his attorneys have pushed back against prosecutors, saying De Sousa was not given the opportunity other taxpayers receive to explain or file missing returns before being charged criminally.

“Criminal charges are usually a last resort by the government after the tax payer has ignored the government’s warning,” attorney Steven Silverman wrote in a statement. “Had the government made an inquiry prior to charging, the government would have learned that Commissioner De Sousa was in the process of seeking assistance from a professional tax consultant to file all past due returns.”

De Sousa was appointed the city’s top cop on Jan. 19, the same day Pugh fired his predecessor, then-Commissioner Kevin Davis, citing stubbornly-high levels of violence.

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De Sousa’s tenure in the top job is among the shortest in modern history, but not the shortest. The position is one of high turnover.

De Sousa was the first officer to rise through the department to the rank of commissioner since Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who served from 2007 to 2012. Both Anthony Batts, who succeeded Bealefeld after a national search, and Davis, who was a recently appointed deputy commissioner when he took over for Batts, came from outside the department.

Davis served in an interim capacity before being appointed to the permanent position under then-outgoing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, but there was never a national search for a new commissioner while he was interim commissioner. The last interim commissioner to serve amid a national search was Tony Barksdale, who served as interim between Bealefeld’s departure and Batts’ hiring.

On Tuesday, Barksdale said that was not an easy position for him to be in, and it won’t be an easy position for Tuggle, as the commanders below him begin jockeying for position and trying to anticipate Tuggle’s replacement.

“You start to have little factions breaking out. You start having some trying to drift off, trying to promote themselves instead of focusing on what they are being paid to do for the citizens,” Barksdale said. “You just want them to stay focused on coming to work, but when you’ve got this type of turmoil at the top, the structure, the unity of command, it gets loose. Everybody may have the same rank, and fall the same way on the organizational chart, but you start to have more internal issues than these politicians understand.”

The police union that represents rank-and-file offices in the city issued a statement Tuesday saying its members “are anxious to put these events behind us and hope that Mayor Pugh can quickly find a suitable replacement” for De Sousa.

In part because of his long service in Baltimore, De Sousa had the support of many community members who had come to know him as a personable and attentive commander in the past.

De Sousa had enjoyed the support of BUILD Baltimore, the influential nonprofit group of church leaders and activists. His departure likely delays the reforms sought by BUILD, said the Rev. Andrew Foster Connors.

“It certainly doesn’t move things forward,” Foster Connors said. “He hasn’t been there long enough to be able to change anything.”

De Sousa’s resignation also comes as the department continues to implement mandated reforms under its consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. The federal agency found widespread unconstitutional and discriminatory policing practices in the department after an investigation that concluded in 2016, and the city and Police Department agreed to overhaul training, supervision, discipline, policy and technology in the department as a result.

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(The Baltimore Sun’s Tim Prudente and Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.)

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©2018 The Baltimore Sun

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