Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa has decided to bring in an outside consultant to review last year’s unsolved killing of Detective Sean Suiter, police officials confirmed Thursday.
T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, said the outside review would put “a fresh set of eyes” on the Suiter case. He offered no further information.
Suiter, a homicide detective, was fatally shot with his own gun on Nov. 15 while investigating a triple homicide in a vacant lot in West Baltimore. No one has been charged in his death.
Police initially said he was killed in a brief but violent struggle with an unknown assailant but subsequently acknowledged that detectives were looking into competing theories as well.
One of those theories is that Suiter committed suicide. Another theory, largely dismissed internally but repeated often by police reform activists, is that Suiter may have been targeted by other officers because he was scheduled to testify the next day before a federal grand jury investigating a 2010 case in which drugs were planted on a man by other officers.
The 2010 drug case involved Gun Trace Task Force leader Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, one of eight officers indicted in a federal racketeering case. Six officers, including Jenkins, have pleaded guilty, and two were found guilty by a federal jury on Monday.
Dr. David Fowler, Maryland’s chief medical examiner, confirmed his office had ruled Suiter’s death a homicide after police released the information. On Thursday, he said he “cannot comment any further” because the case remains under investigation.
De Sousa’s predecessor, former Commissioner Kevin Davis, had asked the FBI to take over the case. After the FBI rejected that request in December, both Davis and Mayor Catherine Pugh said they were considering bringing in an outside consultant to review Suiter’s death.
Davis said the fact that the FBI declined to take the case indicated to him that the federal agency does not believe Suiter’s death was the result of a conspiracy by other officers to kill him before he could testify in the corruption case.
“If Detective Suiter’s pending testimony was somehow a factor in his death, I believe the FBI would have taken [the case] in a heartbeat, and I believe they would have taken it in grand style. I think they would have brought in every resource at their disposal to Baltimore to get to the bottom of it,” Davis said at the time. “The fact that they didn’t tells me that they don’t believe it.”
Pugh fired Davis in January.
In a new interview with ABC2News reporter Brian Kuebler, which Kuebler teased online, De Sousa said he has “an idea” as to what really occurred with Suiter’s death, but declined to say what that was.
De Sousa mentioned there being two conflicting theories around the detective’s death, and he said he hopes the independent review of the case “tells us what happened” to the detective.
“I hope it dispels one or the other” and “just tells us the truth,” he said.
“A lot of people don’t like to hear the truth, but whatever the truth is, I think we need, and we have a responsibility, to share that to the community,” De Sousa said.
The Police Department also has set up a corruption investigation unit to look into accusations made against a dozen other officers during the trial of two of the gun task force officers. One of those accused was Suiter.
Jenkins and seven other police officers linked to the gun task force have been convicted of participating in a racketeering conspiracy that involved their robbing residents of cash, stealing and reselling guns and drugs, filing false court paperwork, and making fraudulent overtime claims.
Former Det. Momodu Gondo, one of six task force officers who pleaded guilty and one of several who testified at the trial of the two others, testified during the trial that he had told the FBI that he stole money when he worked with Suiter and a squad of several other people.
The grand jury Suiter was to testify before was hearing testimony related to a 2010 drug case involving Umar Burley. A U.S. District Court judge vacated Burley’s conviction in the case in December.
Burley’s attorney, Steve Silverman, alleged in court that Suiter rammed Burley’s vehicle from behind, and emerged from an unmarked car wearing all black with a face mask on and his gun drawn. Burley believed he was being robbed, Silverman said.
Suiter wrote the statement of probable cause for Burley and Matthews’ arrest, and said he searched the car and found drugs on the floor. Federal prosecutors have said Jenkins planted heroin in the car and duped Suiter into finding it.
Suiter’s widow, Nicole, has declined repeatedly to comment on the case and the conflicting theories about her husband’s death, but other members of the Suiter family have dismissed the claims of wrongdoing by Suiter.
Sean has never done anything wrong in his life,” said Sherman “Pops” Basil, Suiter’s 82-year-old uncle who helped raise him in Washington, after Gondo delivered his testimony in court. “People will say anything, so I don’t pay no attention to what they say.”
In rejecting Davis’ request to take up the case, the FBI said it had no evidence to suggest Suiter’s death was “directly connected” to the corruption probe or any other federal case.
“For this reason, we believe it prudent for your office to continue as the lead in this investigation, with our current commitment to assist and support you fully, including providing FBI analytical, forensic, and investigative support,” FBI Assistant Director Stephen E. Richardson wrote to Davis in December.
The Baltimore Sun reported in early December that officials inside the department were divided about where the evidence in the case pointed. Some believed, like Davis, that it appeared to be a homicide, while others leaned toward suicide as the most likely explanation, sources said at the time.
“The evidence we have could mean a lot of different things,” one source knowledgeable about the investigation said. “There's no particular evidence that would indicate murder, accident, or suicide.”