Acting Baltimore Police commissioner says he cut command office access after Davis firing for fear of leaks

Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa acknowledged that as he took office last week, he gave the order to cut off at least one commander’s access to department files and communication systems in hopes of preventing leaks of sensitive information.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, De Sousa declined to name the commander or commanders he targeted. But he said that after he gave the order to cut off access to one office, an overzealous member of his staff — “a great person,” he said — decided to cut off the access of multiple others in the Police Department.

“When I realized that other members of the Police Department were impacted by it — other commanders were impacted by it — I immediately gave a subsequent order to have those accesses turned back on,” De Sousa said.

He said the move impacted phones, emails and other services of personnel in key public safety roles in the department, but said his action “had no bearing on public safety whatsoever.”

The Sun reported last Friday that top commanders, including two deputy commissioners, were denied access to department headquarters after Mayor Catherine Pugh fired Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and replaced him with De Sousa, who still must be confirmed by City Council. Commanders’ cellphone service and email access were cut off, and their computers were seized.

Pugh’s office maintained at the time that the problems were simply the result of a “technical issue.”

In the interview, De Sousa would not say which office he targeted with his order, 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. “It’s an internal matter, it’s extremely sensitive, and it’s limited to just one office.”

He 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.

“It was solely my decision,” he said.

Pugh said Friday that her understanding of what had occurred was the same as De Sousa’s. Asked why her office initially said the cause of the confusion was a “technical issue,” Pugh said that was the understanding of her staff at the time.

She said she was not concerned about the matter, De Sousa’s fear that a top commander might leak sensitive information, or the unexplained, ongoing internal investigation.

Earlier this week, after Davis’ firing, two other police leaders resigned.

Chief Ganesha Martin and Deputy Commissioner Jason Johnson were responsible within the department for implementing the reforms mandated by the city’s consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Since Martin and Johnson’s departures, there have been no other command changes, De Sousa said in the interview late Thursday.

He said he hoped to announce the “restructure” of the department, with new appointments to his top command staff, by the middle of next week.

De Sousa, 53, a personable officer with deep ties in the department, has been praised by city officials, the police union and community leaders, many of whom said they approved of the mayor’s decision to make him commissioner.

A native of Queens, N.Y., he first came to Baltimore in 1983 to attend Morgan State University, but then deferred his education to join the Baltimore Police Department in 1988.

“I had a strong urge to become a supervisor and to become a leader within the Police Department,” he said.

He was promoted to sergeant in 2001, lieutenant in 2007, and deputy major in the Northeast District in 2008. Since then, he has been the Northeast District commander, the area commander for the entire east side, and chief of patrol.

He was promoted to deputy commissioner in August 2015 by Davis, who was appointed commissioner in July 2015 after then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired Commissioner Anthony Batts as homicides soared following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody and the subsequent unrest and rioting in the city.

The pace of killings in Baltimore has remained at that elevated pace ever since. In firing Davis, Pugh said she had grown “impatient” with Davis’ inability to stem the violence.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

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