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Roughly Speaking Dan Rodricks: Commentary and conversation on life in Baltimore, Maryland and the USA

Rodricks: I can't see how De Sousa survives this

Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see how Mayor Catherine Pugh can keep Darryl De Sousa as police commissioner of Baltimore. She should start considering candidates to succeed him.

I am stuck on this: The mayor last week suspended De Sousa with pay “pending resolution of this matter” — the matter being federal misdemeanor charges that the commissioner willfully failed to file income tax returns for 2013, 2014 and 2015. How could this possibly end well?

Even if, for some reason, the feds were to drop the charges, De Sousa already admitted in a tweet that he failed to do what millions of Americans know they must do every April.

The other possible “resolution of this matter,” the one that seems likely, involves a formal guilty plea to the misdemeanors and an acceptance of fines. (Prison time — potentially, up to a year on each charge — seems unlikely.)

So let’s say De Sousa “resolves” this matter by pleading guilty. We’re going to have a tax-return scofflaw for police commissioner?

It’s not like he skipped a year because of some personal issue. He failed to file for three consecutive years.

The mayor’s initial response to the allegations suggests that she’s either ignoring good advice or getting bad advice about her messaging.

“As Commissioner De Sousa has explained, he made a mistake in not filing his taxes for the years in question,” Pugh said in a statement on Thursday.

A “mistake”?

A “mistake” is leaving your travel mug on the roof of your car and driving away.

A “mistake” is a math error in calculating taxes.

Ignoring federal law that requires you to report all income to the Internal Revenue Service by April 15 of each year is not a “mistake.” It is a willful act.

There seemed to be a collective sigh when Pugh came back and suspended De Sousa with pay. Excuse me for not joining in the sigh chorus. I don’t see the relief in that.

The idea that the commissioner should be treated like any rank-and-file officer — suspended with pay pending the outcome of misdemeanor charges against him — is just wrong.

He’s the top cop.

The rules are different — tougher — for the top cop.

Which makes it hard to understand why, instead of defending De Sousa, Pugh did not fire him the minute he admitted his failure to file tax returns for three years. During discussions about becoming commissioner, De Sousa apparently avoided telling the mayor that he carried this legal exposure. He failed an integrity test. She should feel betrayed.

This is a lousy development for the mayor and for the city. The timing is awful. It comes as the spring brought renewed violence, despite Pugh’s and De Sousa’s efforts to make changes to stem it, with some success, early in the year.

And looking for a new commissioner is a big pain in the neck for the mayor, another transition in leadership for the department.

But the symbolism of the chief law enforcement officer violating a federal law is worse.

And I can’t buy that it’s “only a tax thing,” and a misdemeanor at that. If there’s a federal law every American understands it’s the requirement to file your taxes and either settle up with the government for money owed, or show that you’re due a refund.

It’s fundamental stuff. And the fact that De Sousa could not handle something so fundamental undermines public confidence that he can run Baltimore’s Police Department.

Perhaps the mayor should offer him a fair demotion. Maybe he could help the city get out of this long run of violence in some other way. Darryl De Sousa could still make contributions to the biggest task facing the city in 2018. He just should not be top cop.

drodricks@baltsun.com

twitter.com/DanRodricks

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