As reactions pour in on Fitzgerald’s withdrawal from BPD job, Pugh cancels presser

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Mayor Catherine Pugh addresses the media on July 25. Screengrab via Facebook Live.

Shortly after word arrived Monday that Joel Fitzgerald had withdrawn from the running to become Baltimore’s next police commissioner, Mayor Catherine Pugh said she would be “communicating further on the process” of picking someone. But that communication won’t be happening today.

Pugh had originally called a 2:45 p.m. press conference to share details about next steps in her search, which began about eight months ago following the resignation of Darryl De Sousa. But with 20 minutes to spare today, her office cancelled the presser.

“The Mayor is fully focused on her number one priority of reducing violent crime in Baltimore and is moving expeditiously in light of today’s development,” spokesman James Bentley said in a statement. “In the meantime, Interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle is on the job and very ably managing the day-to-day affairs of the Baltimore Police Department, along with his command staff. We will, of course, be communicating further details in due course.”

Fitzgerald’s withdrawal came several days after his 13-year-old son was admitted for emergency surgery in Texas, after doctors discovered a mass in his brain last week. Pugh, Baltimore City Council members and others have offered prayers and well wishes to the Fort Worth police commissioner.

He also removed himself from the running two days after an outpouring of overwhelmingly negative public testimony from locals at City Hall about his candidacy for the job–51 people reportedly testified, all but three speaking against him–and three days after The Sun revealed Fitzgerald hadn’t been totally honest about his resume. The NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund had also called upon Pugh to pick someone else on Saturday as the public hearing was underway.

Reactions from local elected officials and others today ranged from celebratory to concerned, given the prolonged process so far of picking a permanent leader for the city’s police department.

In Annapolis, Gov. Larry Hogan opined to WMAR 2’s Brian Kuebler that the hiring process “certainly hasn’t been handled in the way it should have.”

Down in Fort Worth, meanwhile, the city’s municipal manager dubbed Baltimore’s approval process for picking the next police commissioner “awkward” while offering well wishes to Fitzgerald and his family.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s deputy director of policy, Monique Dixon, said “Fitzgerald’s withdrawal is in the best interest of Baltimore City, which is in need of a police commissioner with a proven track record of advancing effective public safety strategies in a manner that protects and respects the civil rights of residents and ensures officer accountability for misconduct.”

Dixon also called on the mayor’s office to let the public help pick and vet candidates this time around, before she’s settled on a finalist.

The Sun threw together a list of some of the other finalists or applicants from Pugh’s search that began last May, including Kevin Ward, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton’s recently retired chief of staff; New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison, Maj. Sarbina Tapp-Harper from the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office and BPD Deputy Commissioner Melvin Russell.

Tuggle, who retired from a long career with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to become De Sousa’s deputy commissioner–only to be promoted when his boss was indicted for tax fraud last spring–had initially applied for the permanent job. But he withdrew his application in October, saying he didn’t want to commit the “five to seven years” he felt will be needed to reform Baltimore’s police force.

Ethan McLeod
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