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Baltimore spending board to consider $70,000 settlement for defamation lawsuit filed by former officer Thomas Cassella

Baltimore’s spending board is poised to approve a settlement with former Baltimore Police Officer Thomas Cassella to close out a defamation lawsuit he filed against the city and former Commissioner Darryl De Sousa.

The settlement, which is on the Board of Estimates agenda for Wednesday, calls for $70,000 to be paid to Cassella to resolve a complaint over De Sousa’s botched 2018 hiring of Cassella.

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According to the agenda, De Sousa picked Cassella to serve as the deputy commissioner of operations in 2018. After the selection was made public, a Baltimore Police Department memo concerning Cassella’s disciplinary history was leaked to the media. The memo contained negative information about Cassella that was false, according to the agenda.

The memo claimed Cassella, who retired from the department in 2007 after 23 years of service, had two sustained complaints against him, including one alleging racial discrimination, according to reports from The Baltimore Sun.

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De Sousa “addressed this situation in multiple public comments,” and later withdrew Cassella’s appointment to the deputy commissioner position, the agenda states.

At the time, De Sousa told reporters the decision to withdraw Cassella’s appointment was mutual, but the lawsuit, filed by Cassella in 2019, alleged that Cassella was never consulted. The complaint also named the former head of the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, Rodney Hill, as a defendant, and contended that Cassella’s professional reputation was harmed by the circulation of the false information. The suit sought $75,000 in damages.

Cassella’s complaint stems from a report from television news station Fox 45 on the day Cassella’s appointment was publicized. The station published a purported internal memo that said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had a complaint against Cassella for alleged racial discrimination that had been sustained in 2006. The news story also said that what appeared to be an internal disciplinary complaint for not properly filing a report was sustained. The memo had been addressed to De Sousa and Hill.

Two days after Cassella’s appointment, De Sousa said the memo was false, that there was never a sustained discrimination claim, and called the memo’s release “completely unfortunate and unfair.”

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The complaint did not identify the source of the leaked information. The Board of Estimates agenda states that the source is “unknown.”

De Sousa’s tenure as police commissioner ended in 2018 when he resigned after federal prosecutors charged him with failing to file tax returns. He pleaded guilty to three counts of failing to file federal tax returns. Hill retired in 2018.

Mary McNamara Koch, Cassella’s attorney, declined to comment until after the Board of Estimates vote.

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