Slain Baltimore Detective Sean Suiter remembered at funeral service as hero, caring public servant

Sean Suiter, the 43-year-old Baltimore homicide detective who was killed two weeks ago in the city’s west side, was remembered as a caring and professional police officer Wednesday at a funeral attended by thousands.

Suiter had a “unique ability to calm witnesses and family members,” Police Commissioner Kevin Davis told mourners at Mount Pleasant Church in the East Baltimore neighborhood of Cedonia. He was an officer whom peers in the Western District would consult before going to their supervisors, an officer who kept an “immaculate” appearance, an extension of his years in the military, an officer who mentored young offenders.

Once, Davis said, an 80-year-old woman dropped off a birthday card for Suiter at the police station. She thanked him for looking after her.

Suiter was shot Nov. 15 in what police have described as a brief but violent struggle in a vacant lot in Harlem Park with a person whose identity remains unknown. He was in the neighborhood to investigate a triple homicide from 2016.

For now, it is the only unsolved line-of-duty death in the agency’s history.

That uncertainty occasionally crept into the service. Gov. Larry Hogan, who said Suiter “died a hero,” remarked on the “blinding pain and unanswered questions” surrounding his death.

Minister Vernon Hill called on a higher power for guidance.

“There’s a lot going on around what took place,” Hill said during an opening prayer. “But we’re confident, Father, that you know, and those who perpetrated the crime will not get away.”

Mourners erupted in applause.

Members of Suiter’s squad in the homicide unit gathered around. They included David Bomenka, the detective who was with Suiter when he was shot, and who sought aid.

Detective Jonathan Jones read from the 23rd Psalm: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

“As homicide detectives,” Jones said, “we go through the valley, we stay in the valley, and we bring those out of the valley who are sometimes lost.

“Sean was the epitome of that.”

Suiter called people “Champ.”

“We got it from here, Champ,” Jones said.

Suiter is the first Maryland police officer killed in the line of duty this year, and the 137th in the history of the Baltimore Police Department.

Authorities, who are offering a $215,000 reward for tips in Suiter’s killing, have struggled to understand what happened. The detective was shot with his own gun, which was found at the scene. Two other shots were fired from the gun, and Davis said there were signs of a brief struggle.

A brief, unintelligible transmission came across his radio. His radio was still in his left hand as responding officers arrived.

Police believe Suiter and Bomenka had seen a suspicious person about 20 minutes earlier and that Suiter was attempting to re-engage the person in an alley when the shooting occurred. Bomenka can be seen on surveillance camera footage taking cover across the street as the shots were fired. It is not clear whether he saw anyone. Police have no description of a suspect.

Davis revealed last week that Suiter was scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury, on the day after he was shot, in the case against several members of the Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force. Davis said federal authorities told him “in no uncertain terms” that Suiter was not a target of their investigation, and authorities have no reason to believe that Suiter’s killing was connected to his pending testimony.

Suiter’s funeral attracted hundreds of officers from across the state. The procession from the church to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens cemetery in Timonium tied up traffic on the beltway.

In a video posted to Twitter by police spokesman T.J. Smith, motorists can be seen pulled over on the road, saluting and waving.

The funeral was held in Mount Pleasant’s 3,000-seat sanctuary. The altar is encircled by pews both on the ground floor and atop a broad balcony. Law enforcement officers filled the balcony level and half of the pews in front of the altar.

Davis sat in a front row pew next to Mayor Catherine Pugh and Hogan and across an aisle from Suiter’s wife and children in another front row.

Davis saluted Suiter’s casket before moving to the pulpit and removing his hat and white gloves. He expressed his “deepest condolences” to Suiter’s family, thanked Suiter’s widow, Nicole, for her “strength and grace,” and told those gathered that Suiter was a hero.

Davis said “Suiter gave, and the Baltimore Police Department gives each and every day.”

“It’s time for the local and national narrative to start reflecting that reality,” he said.

The line drew applause.

Pugh placed her hand over her heart at Suiter’s casket. At the pulpit, she said that her “heart grieves” with Suiter’s family and that it is her goal to expand the Police Department to 3,000 officers to help improve safety in the city.

Each time an officer leaves his or her home, she said, “the hearts and souls of their family leave with them.” She said the city has a duty to protect those families just as the officers “come to protect and serve” the city.

“The memory of Sean Suiter will never leave the minds and hearts of our community,” she told Suiter’s family. “Know that he is loved, not only by you, but by all of us.”

Suiter was born and raised in Washington. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1992 and served an active duty until 1998. He remained in the Army Reserves and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from May 2005 to January 2007. He joined the Baltimore Police Department in 1999.

Hogan said Suiter dedicated his life to public service in an “unsafe place, in unsafe times.”

Hogan asked the police officers in the church to live by the “goodness, dedication and selfless service” that marked Suiter’s life.

“Today we remember the man, and honor the hero,” Hogan said.

Suiter’s son Marquis then stood and addressed his mother and the strong relationship his parents had.

“You guys were best friends,” he said. “I strive to have that in life.”

He then read a poem composed as if written by Suiter to his wife.

“Don’t feel guilty that you have life that was denied to me. Heaven is truly beautiful, just you wait and see,” Suiter’s son read. “So live your life, be free and know with every breath you take, you’ll be taking one for me.”

Marquis Suiter pointed at the casket.

“That man right there,” he said, “is a great man.”

The sun was setting at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens by the time the procession arrived for Suiter’s burial. The procession passed beneath the extended ladders of fire trucks and around a lake to the section of the cemetery where officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty are buried.

Pallbearers lifted Suiter’s flag-draped casket. Officers standing four deep along a path snapped to attention as it passed. Bagpipers played “Amazing Grace.”

Then came a rumble as more than a dozen helicopters passed overhead with their landing lights flashing green and red. Loudspeakers crackled with a police radio call announcing Suiter’s call number and the code for the end of a watch.

“64-43,” the voice said over Suiter’s grave. “64-43 is 10-7.”

An earlier version misidentified a speaker during the opening prayer. The Sun regrets the error.

Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

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