From the death of Freddie Gray to scandals over surveilance airplanes and body-camera videos, the Baltimore Police Department has had a rocky three years. The resignation of Commissioner Darryl De Sousa on Tuesday was just the recent example.
Commissioner Darryl De Sousa resigns
On Tuesday, Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa resigns over a federal investigation into his personal finances and other private and professional affairs. De Sousa stepped down after federal prosecutors charged him last week with failing to file federal tax returns. They have also sent subpoenas to the city’s finance and police departments for a decade’s worth of information about his pay, travel, secondary jobs, taxes and internal affairs files. Deputy Commissioner Gary Tuggle was named his interim replacement, and Mayor Catherine Pugh announced a national search for the next commissioner.
Commissioner Kevin Davis fired
In January 2018, Mayor Catherine Pugh fired Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. Pugh cited the stubbornly high levels of street violence as reason for his firing. Davis was appointed acting commissioner in July 2015, after then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired former Commissioner Anthony Batts in the wake of protests over the death of Freddie Gray. Davis had previously worked as chief of Anne Arundel County Police.
Det. Sean Suiter’s death
In November 2017, Baltimore Police Det. Sean Suiter was shot and killed in West Baltimore, the day before he was to testify before a federal grand jury in the Gun Trace Task Force case. Police have said Suiter was not a target of the investigation. Police initially said Suiter was shot once in the head at close range in a brief, violent struggle with an unknown suspect, but subsequently acknowledged that investigators are also reviewing other theories — including that Suiter may have committed suicide, an idea Suiter’s family has rejected. The case remains unsolved.
A bloody 2017 ended with 342 killings in Baltimore. The surge in street violence was a per-capita record for the city, after 318 killings in 2016 and 342 killings in 2015. Prior to that, there hadn’t been 300 homicides in Baltimore in a single year since 1999.
Body camera tampering
In summer 2017, the release of three police body camera videos caused defense attorneys to allege officers were planting drugs on suspects. In the most notable case, Officer Richard A. Pinheiro Jr. was charged in January with misconduct and fabricating evidence. Pinheiro’s video shows the officer placing a soup can into a trash-strewn lot. That portion of the footage was recorded automatically. After placing the can down, the officer walks to the street and flips his camera on. He returns to the lot, picks up the soup can, and removes a plastic bag filled with white capsules. He is scheduled for trial in August. The video drew national attention, and prosecutors said it caused them to drop more than 100 cases.
In April 2017, a federal judge ordered sweeping police reforms, known as a consent decree, after months of negotiations between the Baltimore Police Department and Justice Department. Federal investigators with the Justice Department found that police in Baltimore routinely violated the constitutional rights of local residents, particularly in predominantly poor, black neighborhoods; used excessive force; mistreated protesters, youths and people with mental disabilities; and dismissed sexual assault complaints improperly, among other failings.
Gun Trace Task Force
In March 2017, federal agents arrested seven Baltimore police officers charged in a racketeering conspiracy. The officers from an elite gun squad, called the Gun Trace Task Force, were accused of robbing drug dealers and cheating on their overtime pay. An eighth officer and former commander of the unit was later charged. Eight members of the Gun Trace Task Force were convicted, and former Sgt. Thomas Allers became the first sentenced. He was sentenced last week to 15 years in federal prison.
In August 2016, revelations emerged that a private company has been conducting secret aerial surveillance on behalf of the Baltimore Police Department and collecting and storing footage from city neighborhoods. The operation, funded by Houston philanthropists Laura and John Arnold, was not disclosed to the public or, initially, to elected officials, including then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. When the program’s existence was revealed, officials and others slammed the police department. Civil liberties advocates said the plane allowed the government to track residents for hours without warrants and with little oversight. The program was grounded. Police said at the time that if they were to try to resurrect it, they would make the process public.
In April 2015, Freddie Gray died of spinal injuries he suffered in the back of a police van. His death was followed by massive protests and riots across Baltimore. In a dramatic news conference, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged the six officers involved in Gray’s arrest and transport. Three of them were acquitted by a judge and Mosby dropped charges against the rest. In September, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would not bring federal charges against the officers.