Baltimore police chief De Sousa suspended amid federal tax charges, as his lawyers criticize …
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has suspended Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa with pay pending the resolution of three federal criminal tax charges he faces — reversing course from the previous evening when she expressed continued support for him.
“Upon review of the circumstances surrounding Commissoner De Sousa’s failure to file tax returns for successive years I have placed him on paid suspension effective immediately,” Pugh said at a news conference Friday.
Deputy Commissioner Gary Tuggle, a former top-ranking Drug Enforcement Administration official tapped by De Sousa in March to oversee strategic and support services for the department, will serve as acting commissioner in De Sousa’s absence, Pugh said.
De Sousa’s team also changed tack Friday. On Thursday he was contrite, admitting that he failed to file the returns. But moments after Pugh announced that De Sousa was suspended, one of his lawyers issued a statement criticizing prosecutors’ approach.
Attorney Steven Silverman said that De Sousa did not learn about the charges until after they were filed and that federal authorities did not give him a chance to explain or file the missing returns — an opportunity Silverman said taxpayers are usually afforded.
“Criminal charges are usually a last resort by the government after the tax payer has ignored the government’s warning,” Silverman said. “Had the government made an inquiry prior to charging, the government would have learned that Commissioner De Sousa was in the process of seeking assistance from a professional tax consultant to file all past due returns.”
The police officers’ union and some state lawmakers called on De Sousa to be suspended late Thursday, even as Pugh said that the commissioner retained her confidence. On Friday she praised De Sousa’s short tenure leading the police department, saying he had been an effective leader who had driven down crime.
“That said, I believe his suspension pending resolution of this matter is in the best interests of the Baltimore Police Department, the city of Baltimore and him personally,” the mayor said.
De Sousa’s suspension with pay is consistent with the discipline of rank and file officers who are accused of misdimeanor crimes. By policy, members of the police department must “fulfill their personal financial obligations.”
Asked whether a conviction would preclude De Sousa from returning to his position, Pugh said she didn’t know.
The decision to have De Sousa step back comes one day after a federal judge unsealed three misdemeanor tax charges against him, alleging he willfully failed to file federal taxes in 2013, 2014 or 2015.
De Sousa, 53, admitted guilt in a statement on Twitter on Thursday, saying his “only explanation” for not filing federal or state taxes in those years was that he “failed to sufficiently prioritize [his] personal affairs.”
De Sousa, a 30-year veteran of the city police force, faces up to a year in prison and $75,000 in fines. His initial court appearance had not been scheduled.
Pugh, who appointed De Sousa commissioner in January after firing his predecessor, Kevin Davis, said she learned of the charges against him at the same time as rest of the public when they were announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore.
The mayor’s immediate response to the news was to issue a statement Thursday saying that De Sousa retained her confidence and was “working to resolve this matter.”
Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the police union that represents rank-and-file members called for De Sousa late Thursday to “do the right thing by taking a leave of absence.” The union declined to comment on De Sousa’s suspension on Friday.
The City Council, which confirmed De Sousa’s appointment in February by a 14-1 vote without debate, has largely supported the commissioner since the charges were announced, though some state lawmakers who represent the city in Annapolis have called for him to step down.
Although the allegations against De Sousa date back to long before he was nominated to lead the police department, Pugh said he had been vetted “pretty well.”
“Let me just say I think we’ve learned a few lessons,” the mayor said.
Pugh appointed De Sousa in January after citing stubbornly high levels of violence under Davis’ tenure. She said that De Sousa’s suspension “will in no way impede our relentless effort to make our city safer.”
Tuggle is a graduate of Coppin State University and holds advanced degrees from the Johns Hopkins University, including master’s degrees in business administration and in government. He joined the DEA in 1992 and rose through the ranks to leadership positions, including as assistant special agent in charge of the agency’s Baltimore office from 2013 to 2015. He later led the DEA’s Philadelphia office.
Tuggle declined to comment on his appointment outside of City Hall on Friday.
This article will be updated.