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Appointment of new Baltimore deputy commissioner on hold after leaked complaint memo, De Sousa says

Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said one of two top command appointments he announced Thursday has been put on hold pending further investigation into a leaked memo outlining past complaints against the appointee.

The department also said the leak is illegal and is under investigation.

Tom Cassella, a 23-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, retired as a major in 2007 and went on to work in several corporate security positions, including as director of security at Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore for the last several years.

De Sousa told The Baltimore Sun on Thursday that he had appointed Cassella as his deputy commissioner in charge of operations — an important role overseeing much of the day-to-day work of patrol officers and special units throughout the city.

On Friday, De Sousa reversed course, saying at a morning news conference that a “subsequent investigation” had led him to put a hold on the appointment.

“With respect to Tom Cassella, I did a subsequent investigation over the last couple of hours, 12 hours or so, and there was some information that came to light,” he said. “So … I am not moving forward at this point to bring in Tom Cassella on board.”

De Sousa said he was “looking at the legitimacy of” the internal document, which lists complaint cases against Cassella during his career with the department.

“There is a discrepancy with some of the way the cases appear, and I just need to do further investigation,” De Sousa said. “I need to serve the city well. I need to serve the community well.”

Cassella could not be reached for comment.

The document in question was first reported by Fox 45 on Thursday. It is dated Jan. 26 from Chief Rodney Hill, head of the department’s professional responsibility office, to De Sousa.

It outlines various complaints against Cassella, including two marked “Sustained.”

One was an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed by an officer who said Cassella had discriminated against him because of his race “and created a hostile environment.” The other was a disciplinary case alleging Cassella failed to conduct a proper investigation or file a report.

After De Sousa and other newly appointed commanders left the morning news conference, the department’s chief spokesman, T.J. Smith, returned to a police briefing room to tell reporters that “no decisions have been made” regarding Cassella’s appointment.

“The fact of the matter is, we’re verifying the legitimacy of the correspondence that was illegally leaked to the news, and once the verifications are made, the commissioner will make a decision,” Smith said.

The question of legitimacy was related to content of the memo, he said, not the memo itself.

“A typo can change the entire document, potentially,” Smith said. “You can report it however you’re going to report it.”

Cassella also served on Mayor Catherine Pugh’s transition team as a public safety and policing adviser.

De Sousa said his initial selection of Cassella — which he said was his alone — was based on Cassella’s background and experience.

“He has a very unique skill set that I thought would be beneficial to the police department,” De Sousa said.

It was during “a subsequent background check that I discovered something that made me slow down that process and reconsider,” he said. “At this point, we’re not going to move forward.”

Cassella joined the department in the 1980s, like De Sousa, and De Sousa told The Sun on Thursday that Cassella was a mentor of his and his lieutenant in the Northwest District years ago.

He said Cassella and Andre Bonaparte, the other deputy commissioner he appointed who stood by his side at the Friday news conference, were “going to help us restore some of the culture we had in the past — the positive, strong culture with respect to community policing, patrol, not taking short cuts.”

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