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Demoted for Being White: Baltimore Police Major Sues for Discrimination

Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa, shown leaving federal court last year after being sentenced to 10 months in prison, is accused in a new lawsuit of discriminating against a high-ranking officer who claims he was demoted because he is white, among other reasons.(KIm Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

A white Baltimore Police major claims he was discriminated against and demoted by former Commissioner Darryl De Sousa because of his race and because he did not hire De Sousa’s son, a new federal lawsuit claims.

Maj. James Handley alleges that when then-Commissioner De Sousa took over the department in January 2018, he quickly made several command-level changes based on race, promoting black commanders while demoting white commanders. De Sousa is African American.

“BPD suffers from PMS — Pale, Male, Stale,” De Sousa allegedly said during a retreat for commanders in February 2018, around the time he began making several command-level changes, according to the lawsuit. De Sousa’s “admitted goal was to move and remove the ‘PMS elements’ from the Department, which necessarily included Plaintiff,” the lawsuit said.

Filed in U.S. District Court, the lawsuit seeks a minimum of $500,000 in damages, including for back pay, lost pension benefits and pain and suffering. The lawsuit is against the police department only, and does not name De Sousa or the city as defendants.

De Sousa was selected as police commissioner in early 2018 by then-Mayor Catherine E. Pugh. He resigned four months after taking the top job while being investigated for for failing to file tax returns. He was convicted and sentenced to federal prison.

A police department spokeswoman declined to comment on the suit. Handley’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment Friday. De Sousa, who was released from prison to a halfway house in February, could not be reached for comment.

Handley, a 21-year veteran, remains with the department as a major overseeing the records management section.

His lawsuit claims he was unfairly demoted as the acting inspector in charge of the Recruitment and Professional Development Division to the lower rank of major assigned to the Southwestern District, and then later transferred to the department’s medical section.

Handley alleges that he was demoted in part because De Sousa’s son was disqualified from the police department’s hiring process “due to a lack of integrity," among other things, the lawsuit said.

The actions to demote Handley were made, the lawsuit said, despite the fact that under Handley’s leadership, the department saw hiring increase by 127%.

Later, while Handley was serving in the Southwest District, De Sousa transferred him to the department’s medical section. Handley was replaced in the district by a black captain who had been promoted to that rank just two months earlier, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit claims De Sousa said Handley was “not community-oriented," despite recent community-related events that Handley had attended.

Handley also attempted to show De Sousa that he had been successful in reducing crime, which was a reason De Sousa cited for sending him to the Southwest District. The lawsuit said property crime was “significantly reduced” in that time. Homicides dropped by 75%, and non-fatal shootings and robberies were reduced by 200% and 47%, compared to the same time the previous year, Handley contended in the lawsuit.

“De Sousa’s real reason for transferring Plaintiff to the Medical Section was in keeping with his intent to remove the “Pale, Male, Stale” command staff and replace them with African American Males and Females and retaliation for not hiring his son,” the lawsuit said.

Jessica Anderson

Jessica Anderson started at The Baltimore Sun 2010 and currently covers the Baltimore Police Department. She's mostly covered crime and breaking news. She graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. and grew up in Baltimore County.

Originally appeared at: Baltimore Sun