Baltimore Police investigations of Gun Trace Task Force corruption allegations, other issues remain unresolved

Within weeks of taking over the Baltimore Police Department in January, Commissioner Darryl De Sousa had announced investigations or promised reviews of a slate of pressing issues — including accusations that poorly trained recruits were being pushed through the police academy, and claims of past corruption by current officers.

Months later, none of the investigations has been resolved, according to a police spokesman. Other ongoing reviews relate to the seizure of former commanders’ computers amid De Sousa’s hiring and his predecessor’s decision to discontinue the use of plainclothes units.

On the day Mayor Catherine Pugh fired former Commissioner Kevin Davis and appointed De Sousa to replace him, De Sousa ordered the cutoff of at least one top commander’s access to police headquarters, mobile phone service and department computers, but such access was cut off for Davis and several other top commanders, and several commanders’ computers were seized.

De Sousa blamed the incident on an “overzealous” employee implementing his order — which he said he intended to affect just one “office” in the department. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun in January, De Sousa would not say which office he targeted, citing an ongoing internal investigation.

“I’d prefer not to say because we currently do have an investigation going, which is strictly and solely internal,” he said at the time.

De Sousa said he gave the order to cut off the office’s access in order to “safeguard the community and the public by not having any information, any sensitive information, leave the walls” of the Police Department.

That investigation remains ongoing, said T.J. Smith, the department’s chief spokesman.

Also in late January, De Sousa said he was reviewing Davis’ decision to end plainclothes drug enforcement in the city.

“I am evaluating to see what best practices tell us, what the research tells us, on plainclothes, and if it has an effect on reducing crime,” he said at the time.

Such units have been praised for reducing crime in the past, but also criticized for violating residents’ rights. The practice was halted after members of the plainclothes Gun Trace Task Force were indicted for robbing residents and stealing and reselling guns and drugs on the streets.

De Sousa’s review of plainclothes units is still underway, Smith said.

In early February, De Sousa promised an investigation into a slate of corruption allegations made at the Gun Trace Task Force trial.

During the trial, allegations were made by convicted cops and a convicted bail bondsman against a dozen police officers not charged in the case. De Sousa said he had created a corruption investigation unit to look into the allegations.

“We are working diligently to investigate and hold those who tarnished the badge and violated public trust accountable for their actions,” the department said in a statement at the time. “The citizens deserve better and the hardworking honorable men and women of this agency deserve better.”

That investigative work is still underway, Smith said.

Also in February, De Sousa said he would look into the concerns raised by Sgt. Josh Rosenblatt, a legal instructor at the police training academy, that recruits were being pushed through without a firm understanding of core legal principles such as probable cause.

“Under my watch, there isn’t going to be a single police officer who does not satisfactorily pass any Maryland police training requirements,” De Sousa pledged. “They won’t be allowed to go on the streets. It’s plain and simple.”

That review is still underway, Smith said.

That same month, De Sousa halted the appointment of a deputy commissioner after an internal document purporting to show the retired commander’s discipline record was leaked. The document turned out to contain false information, but the retired commander up for the job — Thomas Cassella — was never reappointed.

De Sousa denounced the leak, and the department said it was investigating the incident.

That investigation also is ongoing, Smith said.

Smith said he did not have a timeline for when any of the investigations or reviews may be completed.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

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