Slain Baltimore homicide Detective Sean Suiter was scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury in the case against a squad of indicted officers on the day after he was shot, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Wednesday evening.
The revelation brings together two cases that have sent shock waves through the Police Department and the city as a whole: the federal prosecutions of eight members of the department’s elite gun task force, who are accused of shaking down citizens and conspiring with drug dealers, and the killing of Suiter last week in West Baltimore, the first of an on-duty officer by a suspect in 10 years.
Davis said Wednesday that federal authorities have told him “in no uncertain terms” that Suiter was not a target of their investigation into the Gun Trace Task Force. He said authorities have no reason to believe Suiter’s killing was connected to his pending testimony.
“The BPD and FBI do not possess any information that this incident ... is part of any conspiracy,” Davis said. He said evidence shows the shooting occurred spontaneously, as Suiter investigated a suspicious person in the Harlem Park neighborhood.
“There is no information that has been communicated to me that Detective Suiter was anything other than a stellar detective, great friend, loving husband and dedicated father,” he said.
Davis also said that Suiter is believed to have been killed with his own service weapon, which was fired at close range, and that there was evidence of a struggle before the shooting.
Police have not identified a suspect or made arrests in Suiter’s shooting Nov. 15. Investigators locked the neighborhood down for several days after the shooting to gather evidence and interview potential witnesses. Authorities are offering a reward of $215,000 for information leading to an arrest.
Police say Suiter and a partner were conducting a follow-up investigation on a triple homicide in the 900 block of Bennett Place when he saw someone acting suspiciously in a vacant lot and approached. The 43-year-old detective, a married father of five, was shot once in the head.
He died the next day.
Davis described for the first time surveillance video of the scene. The footage shows Suiter’s partner seeking cover across the street. Davis backed his actions.
“Upon the sound of gunfire, Detective Suiter’s partner sought cover across the street,” Davis said, reading from a prepared statement. “He immediately called 911. We know this, because it is captured on private surveillance video that we have recovered.”
Mayor Catherine Pugh was briefed on the case Wednesday and said she asked Davis to disclose the information to the public, due to theories swirling in the community.
The Gun Trace Task Force was entrusted with executing a key element of Davis’ strategy against the city’s historic surge in killing: getting illegal guns out of the hands of the trigger pullers who are driving the violence.
But a federal grand jury indicted eight task force members earlier this year on charges of racketeering and other violations, and authorities are continuing to investigate allegations related to the squad.
Four officers have pleaded guilty, and at least two of them are cooperating with authorities.
The other four members have pleaded not guilty. They are scheduled for trial in January.
Davis said he was told by federal prosecutors that Suiter was to testify in the case of the indicted officers in relation to an incident from several years ago. It was not clear whether his testimony would be helpful or harmful to the officers.
Among the officers to stand trial is Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, the supervisor of the task force.
Jenkins and Suiter were involved in a high-speed chase in 2010 in which the elderly father of a Baltimore police officer was killed. Two men were charged in the case. Umar Burley and Brent Matthews were both convicted of heroin possession charges and sentenced to federal prison.
Court records show that the two assistant U.S. attorneys who are prosecuting the Gun Trace Task Force entered their appearances — or filed a formal notification of their involvement — in the closed high-speed chase case in late August, and there have been multiple sealed filings since then.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland declined to comment Wednesday night.
State court records show that Suiter made dozens of arrests with Detective Maurice Ward, one of the officers who has pleaded guilty in the Gun Trace Task Force case, between 2007 and 2009. He made two arrests in 2008 with Detective Momodu Gondo, and three arrests in 2010 with Jenkins.
A federal grand jury this month indicted former Baltimore police Officer Eric Troy Snell, now a Philadelphia police officer, in an alleged conspiracy with some members of Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force to sell drugs and split proceeds.
In one allegation, federal prosecutors accuse Jenkins and Detecetive Jemell Rayam of initiating a high-speed chase in 2016 in which driver of the vehicle threw more than 9 ounces of cocaine out of the window of his vehicle before crashing near Mondawmin Mall.
Prosecutors say the officers retrieved the cocaine. They say Jenkins told Rayam to sell most of it and give Jenkins proceeds of the sale, and Rayam agreed to do it.
Rayam has pleaded guilty to racketeering in his own indictment and is cooperating with authorities.
Police asked anyone with information to call homicide detectives at 410-396-2100, the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI, or Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7LOCKUP.
Sun reporters Tim Prudente and Luke Broadwater contributed to this article