Another blow to the Pugh administration

Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa’s admission that he failed to file his federal or state taxes for three years raises a multitude of questions that his explanation — failing to properly prioritize his personal affairs — doesn’t come close to answering. Before we can assess his fitness to serve as the city’s top cop, we need to know a lot more about how this problem got to the point at which federal prosecutors brought criminal charges against him, leading the mayor to suspend him Friday with pay pending a resolution of the case, and about why he has not been able to resolve the issue already.

Mayor Catherine Pugh’s immediate response was to assure the public she retained confidence in Mr. De Sousa. She stuck to that line even amid her ashen-faced delivery of a statement announcing his suspension. In a brief question-and-answer session afterward, she said she learned of Mr. De Sousa’s tax problems at the same time the rest of us did: when the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced them via press release. What has he told her about them, and why did he not warn her of them before? His attorney has said he “was in the process of seeking assistance from a professional tax consultant to file all past due returns prior to the charges being filed; so he was certainly aware of the problem. Does the fact that he failed to complete so fundamental a task of American life give the mayor any pause about his ability to run the city’s most crucial agency? And even if he wasn’t forthcoming about his problems during the vetting process, how did the administration miss the fact that he’s failed to fill out mandatory finacial disclosure forms in some prior years?

We are rooting for Mayor Pugh to succeed, not for her sake but for the city’s. We believe her administration is doing vitally important work in revitalizing neighborhoods, connecting residents to jobs, reaching out to youth, combating drug addiction and more. But this development is just the latest in a string of mind-boggling setbacks for her administration. Mayor Pugh can’t fairly be blamed for them all, but they nonetheless make it harder and harder for Baltimore’s residents to retain confidence in the management at City Hall. The recent litany of mistakes and embarrassments includes:

  • The deputy director of Baltimore’s Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement resigned after The Sun asked questions about his disbarment the previous year. Charles G. Byrd Jr. had been accused of misappropriating clients’ funds for personal use. The head of that office, state Sen. Jill P. Carter, said she knew about the disbarment when she hired him.
  • The mayor’s appointed head of a panel tasked with civilian oversight of the police department stepped down as chairman after The Sun reported on his nearly hour-long confrontation with a policeman over a minor traffic stop, during which he attempted to go over the officer’s head by calling a top commander in the department.
  • The mayor announced that she had hired a new spokesman only to have him resign hours later after The Sun asked questions about three lawsuits against him during his time as a police officer, which resulted in $80,000 in taxpayer-funded settlements.
  • Newly promoted Commissioner De Sousa announced that he had hired a former department commander as one of his top deputies, only to put that appointment on hold after news reports of a document purporting to show sustained misconduct complaints against him. Mr. De Sousa later issued a carefully worded statement disputing the document’s veracity that merely raised more questions. The appointment was rescinded anyway.
  • Around the same time, the police department issued a memo bearing Mr. De Sousa’s name saying that one of the officers charged in Freddie Gray’s death had been transferred to internal affairs. Mr. De Sousa later said that was a mistake and rescinded it, too.

That was all just since January. Last year, a Pugh aide pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, the city failed to submit a letter to the state requesting funding for transportation projects, and Oriole Park and M&T Bank Stadium were mistakenly included in Baltimore’s annual tax lien sale over their water bills.

The fact that the city’s top law enforcement official admits to having broken the law would be disturbing under any circumstances, but the recent record invites the public to see it as part of a pattern. The sickened look on Mayor Pugh’s face and the subdued tone of her voice during her press conference Friday suggested the possibility that she does, too. People are depending on her to turn this city around, and she can’t afford any more setbacks.

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