Some lawmakers, police union say Baltimore police commissioner's apology for tax charges not enough

Update: Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh Friday placed Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa on paid leave pending the resolution of the federal criminal tax charges.

This story will be updated.

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Some lawmakers in Baltimore have begun voicing concerns about the federal tax charges against Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa, breaking with the mayor and joining the police union in saying De Sousa’s apology for his failings was not enough.

“In what world is it acceptable for the chief law enforcement officer of a City to willfully violate federal law? This is not ok,” wrote state Sen. Bill Ferguson. “And it’s not normal to concede to such low expectations for leaders of our City. This is a breach of trust and a severe distraction when our City can least afford to take our eye off the ball.”

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh scheduled a new conference at City Hall at 1 p.m. Friday “to address the recent developments concerning Commissioner Darryl De Sousa.” A spokesman for the mayor said she planned to make an announcement about the commissioner.

Del. Luke Clippinger, who like Ferguson is a Democrat who represents District 46, said that, at “the absolute minimum,” Pugh “must suspend” De Sousa while the federal tax case against him is active.

Pugh said Thursday that De Sousa retained her full confidence.

Clippinger, an assistant state’s attorney in Anne Arundel County, said it is “a problem” if De Sousa was not properly vetted, but “a much bigger problem that he didn’t reveal this issue himself before he was” appointed as the city’s top cop in January.

“It goes directly to his credibility as a police officer, much less as Commissioner, that he took the job knowing he was in violation of federal law,” Clippinger said. “It was a willful omission of a material fact as he applied for a job that demands the public’s trust.”

Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that De Sousa, 53, faced three misdemeanor tax charges for willfully failing to file federal tax returns in 2013, 2014 or 2015. De Sousa faces up to a year in prison and $75,000 in fines. His initial court appearance has not been scheduled.

De Sousa, a 30-year veteran of the city police force, later admitted guilt in a statement on Twitter, saying his “only explanation” for not filing federal or state tax returns in those years was that he “failed to sufficiently prioritize [his] personal affairs.”

He also said he regretted any embarrassment his actions had brought to the city or the police department.

“I accept full responsibility for this mistake and am committed to resolving this situation as quickly as possible,” he wrote.

De Sousa is a personable commander with many supporters in the community, a small group of whom held a news conference voicing their continuing support for him across from police headquarters on Friday morning.

“Baltimore is in a critical moment, and leadership — the right leadership at the right time — will lead us to our promise or lead us to a pathway of self-destruction,” Derrick Chase, founder and CEO of Stand Up Baltimore, said at the press event. “In this moment we believe that commissioner Darryl De Sousa is the right choice, the right man at the right time.”

De Sousa’s twin brother, Jason De Sousa, was among the supporters who spoke Friday morning to support the commissioner. He said his brother failed to file taxes at a time when he was caring for his parents.

“My brother’s a good person, and he’s done nothing but try to be the best commissioner possible,” Jason De Sousa said.

And they weren’t alone in backing him.

Pugh appointed De Sousa commissioner in January after firing his predecessor, Kevin Davis, amid stubbornly high levels of violence.

After the charges against De Sousa were announced, Pugh said he was “working to resolve this matter” and that he “made a mistake.”

Many City Council members expressed disappointment but continuing support for De Sousa, as well. The council confirmed his appointment in February on a 14-1 vote, without debate.

Councilman Robert Stokes, who chairs the committee that handled De Sousa’s nomination, said De Sousa retained his “full support,” and was “taking care of his business.”

Councilman Brandon Scott, chair of the public safety committee, also expressed his continuing faith in De Sousa, but said the commissioner had put city leaders in a difficult position and that he would be speaking with the mayor about De Sousa’s future.

Councilman Ryan Dorsey, the lone councilman who voted against De Sousa’s confirmation, said the city should focus “on the importance of thorough vetting and thoughtful confirmation procedures for such important public positions” moving forward.

The police union that represents rank-and-file members called on De Sousa late Thursday to “do the right thing by taking a leave of absence” until the federal case is resolved.

The union said there should not be a different standard for De Sousa than for rank-and-file members, who are routinely suspended with pay when charged with misdemeanor crimes.

Davis, De Sousa’s predecessor, when asked for comment on the matter, said, “I am keeping Mayor Pugh in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Meehan contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

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