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De Sousa Unanimously Confirmed by City Council Committee

Dominique Maria Bonessi

Last night the executive appointments committee of the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously to confirm Darryl De Sousa as Baltimore’s new police commissioner, but not without some tough questions from committee members and the public. His confirmation is still pending until Monday when the entire city council is set to vote on his nomination, WYPR’s City Hall Reporter, Dominique Maria Bonessi, spoke with Morning Edition Host Nathan Sterner about the hearing.

NATHAN: I think the big question on everyone’s mind is how does De Sousa plan on gaining the public’s trust after the revelations of the Gun Trace Taskforce trials?

DOMINIQUE: So corruption was at the forefront of the everyone’s minds and multiple people brought up the question, again and again, as to how De Sousa plans on weeding out corruption.

DE SOUSA: “We already have everyone’s names that was implicated in the GTTF trials. All those names that came out. We physically have those folders in our police office headquarters. I can say right now at least one of the police officers has been suspended. He is not working the streets. We will continue to look at every single case we have.”

DOMINIQUE: He also talked about implementing an anti-corruption unit, lie-detector tests, an inspector general to oversee the implementation of the consent decree, and an overtime abuse unit.

NATHAN: What about this notion that De Sousa said during the GTTF trials that the corruption was due to a “few bad apples”?

DOMINIQUE: That was quoted and brought up by multiple people last night, including District One Councilman Zeke Cohen, who told De Sousa it didn’t sit right with him.

COHEN: “And that comment, I thought, set you off on the wrong foot. I said this to you privately and now I'm saying it to you publicly.”

DOMINIQUE: District Eight Councilman Kristerfer Burnett also brought up the same issue and sighted a larger systemic problem with the culture within the department that led to the GTTF trials and the Justice Department investigation.

BURNETT: “One of the things that has always bothered me about the department  -- and it's not specific to Baltimore Police and your tenure. There also being another diatribe that we don’t talk about is that there is that Blue Wall of silence.”

DOMINIQUE: He went on to say that police feel they can’t hold each other accountable, and that, in turn, increases mistrust in the community. Burnett said his constituents don’t feel comfortable calling the police. This spoke to the larger issue of what the Consent Decree is addressing trust and relationships between the police and the community. In response to all this, De Sousa apologized.

DE SOUSA: "I’d like to go back to that February 2nd statement and say that I should have refrained from saying it was 'bad apples,' and I’m here to apologize by saying it that way. But what I’m saying here today is, are there bad or corrupt cops in the Baltimore City Police Department? Yes.”

NATHAN: Let’s go back for a minute. Help us understand, why is this committee hearing so important and well-attended by Baltimore residents?

DOMINIQUE: To understand why this hearing was a big deal to Baltimoreans, we have to look back at what happened in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray. Former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired then-Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and hired Kevin Davis. Davis’s nomination hearing went on till 4am, with protestors refusing to leave the City Hall hearing room until they had a one-on-one with Davis to address their concerns about the police department. Last night more than 50 people signed up to speak in public testimony, and the overflow room had to be used. The meeting went on for three and a half hours.

NATHAN: If questions or requests were made of De Sousa prior to this hearing, what were they?

DOMINIQUE: On Tuesday, the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund even sent city council members questions to ask De Sousa in advance. The questions covered everything from addressing corruption in the department in light of the revelations of the Gun Trace Task Force, to carrying out the Consent Decree, to ensuring the police academy is taking steps to address officers that failed scenario-based tests. On Wednesday, Baltimore BLOC, a community organizing group, tweeted out a list of three demands for De Sousa. These were: 1. Delaying the confirmation until De Sousa met with community-organizations in every police district to hear their complaints and answer questions. 2. That De Sousa’s Internal Affairs record be released to the public for transparency. 3. That De Sousa support disbanding the department for a peace building authority. Also, BUILD --  Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development -- asked to meet with De Sousa on March 6th in a community listening session to hear the concerns and questions of the community.

NATHAN: Another big question that District Two Councilman Brandon Scott and District Three Councilman Ryan Dorsey brought up was pushing for legislation at the Maryland General Assembly for the city to regain control of the police department.  How did De Sousa respond?

DOMINIQUE: De Sousa struggled with this response.

DE SOUSA: “At this point, I would offer and I know there is already legislation in place,that it is preferred to stay where it is right now, based on the current law. If that law does change I would support that new law, that new legislation.”

DOMINIQUE: In that De Sousa did not say he would push for that kind of legislation in Annapolis. In the past Mayor Catherine Pugh has said she would not be in favor of regaining control of the department, and last week, City Solicitor Andre Davis told me in an email that it would have several legal implications for the city, but would not go into detail.

NATHAN: Something that has been reported on by WYPR and other news agencies is that De Sousa did have a past record of fatally shooting civilians on the job back in 1995, did any of the council members bring up his past disciplinary records?

DOMINIQUE: None of the council members asked about his past disciplinary records, but Brendan Walsh, an outreach worker at a soup kitchen in West Baltimore, told the story of his friend’s son, Garrett Jackson, nicknamed “Scooter”, who was shot 13 times by De Sousa in February of 1995. In December of that same year, Walsh recounted another shooting near a library where 50 bullets were released from De Sousa’s gun and a young bystander, Melvin James, was shot dead. In his testimony, Walsh said he knew De Sousa was going to be confirmed anyway, but he went on to say:

WALSH: “I’m really surprised at that kind of policing, while shooting in a public street near a library in the middle of the day. So I’m very concerned about that kind of policing.”

DOMINIQUE: De Sousa reacted to Walsh’s story at the end of the night following his confirmation.

DE SOUSA: “It is something that happened years ago, 20 something years ago that I wish had never occurred. I do wish I had equipment that we’re now equipping officers with. It is critical for us to equip officers with the proper equipment they need so looking back in retrospect now I wish it never happened, but we gotta make improvements.” 

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