Baltimore Police Chief Resigns Amid Federal Tax Charges

Baltimore Police Commissioner De Sousa resigns amid federal tax charges

By Kevin Rector and Ian Duncan

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 with three misdemeanor counts of failing to file federal income tax returns by federal prosecutors last week.

De Sousa is not currently incarcerated, but faces up to a year in prison and a $25,000 fine for each charge.

He could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday. 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 on Friday after Pugh suspended De Sousa, will now be the interim commissioner, Pugh's office said.

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, a 30-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, 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" on 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.

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.

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."

BUILD had called on De Sousa to overhaul internal affairs, train officers on constitutional policing methods, and increase foot patrols in violent neighborhoods. De Sousa won further support from BUILD leaders when he admitted publicly the police department's problems went beyond "a few bad apples," as he had previously said.

"He apologized for using that language," Foster Connors said. "We couldn't have asked for more."

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.

Overseeing that process is an independent monitor team led by Venable attorney Ken Thompson. Thompson declined to comment on De Sousa's resignation on Tuesday.

Councilman Brandon Scott, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said De Sousa's resignation and other turmoil in the police department's upper ranks comes at a time when the city can't "afford those distractions."

"We don't need any distractions away from reducing the violence in the city and also from reforming the police department," Scott said.

He said the situation underscores the need to radically overhaul how the police department is run. Scott has called for increased local oversight of the police department and the creation of a board of commissioners.

"This just shows that we should have done this a long time ago," Scott said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Tim Prudente and Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

(c)2018 The Baltimore Sun

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.