An independent panel tasked with investigating the death of Baltimore Police Detective Sean Suiter said Thursday it will issue its final report at the end of July.
The board has spent more than two months reviewing hundreds of documents, body-worn camera footage, crime scene photos, and speaking with officers, supervisors and commanders within the Baltimore Police Department as it investigates the death of the homicide detective.
Suiter was shot once in the head with his own service weapon in a vacant lot in Harlem Park in West Baltimore on Nov. 15. No suspects were ever arrested. While some in the police department believe he was killed, others believe he committed suicide.
When asked if the board has determined if Suiter’s death was a homicide or suicide, one of the board’s co-chairs James “Chips” Stewart said Thursday, “we have information that will reach a conclusion.”
But Stewart continued, “I am not going to say we have definitely concluded anything because it is still open.”
Stewart spoke during the brief public session of the hours-long meeting Thursday held at the DLA Piper law firm office downtown. The panel has met as a group two times previously to discuss the case. The discussion at the meetings have largely been held behind closed doors because panel members said Suiter’s death investigation remains an active criminal investigation.
Stewart said the board members planned to discuss on Thursday the initial findings and begin working to create a comprehensive report to be handed over to the police department in July.
In addition to investigating Suiter’s death, the board is also evaluating the department’s response to the shooting — including the crime scene investigation, security around the Harlem Park neighborhood during the investigation and police interactions with community members there. Some residents and city leaders criticized the department after the neighborhood was closed off and residents were required to show IDs to get past police tape to enter their homes while officers investigated the shooting.
Stewart said the board members have also spoken to Harlem Park residents and members of the Baltimore Police Consent Decree monitoring team about the Harlem Park response. The monitor is evaluating the department’s compliance with a federal consent decree that was reached between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice in 2017. A DOJ investigation previously found widespread discriminatory and unconstitutional policing in Baltimore.
Stewart said the board continues to interview individuals next week. They’ve requested to speak with former Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, who headed the department when Suiter was killed.
The board has talked to federal prosecutors involved in the Gun Trace Task Force corruption case. “We’ve had some contact and some discussion. They’ve been very helpful,” Stewart said.
Suiter was shot the day before he was to give testimony before a federal grand jury investigating the group of officers. Police have said that Suiter was not a target of that investigation.
When asked whether the board has uncovered any new evidence or findings, Stewart said, “as we reviewed this, we have good information,” and will be able to reach a conclusion.
When asked if anything had been overlooked, Stewart said, “That will be presented later today in confidence.”
Stewart said members of the department have been very cooperative throughout the process.
“The Baltimore police department has been very forthcoming and transparent with providing the [Independent Review Board] members with thousands of pages of internal correspondents and documents, hundreds of hours of videos,” and providing independent interviews with personnel, Stewart said.
Baltimore Police spokesman T.J. Smith said interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle, as his predecessor, has supported the board in its work. The board first convened back in April under Former Police Commissioner Darryl DeSousa. DeSousa resigned in May while board members held their second meeting. DeSousa resigned after being charged with three misdemeanor counts of failing to file federal income tax returns. He
“We all want the same thing and that’s the most comprehensive review of how everything was managed on the day that this tragic incident took place,” Smith said.
Smith said he’s talked to Suiter’s widow, Nicole, in the past month, but didn’t discuss the case. The family, he said, also want some sense of closure.
While the board is expected to make determinations in the case, Suiter’s death is still being investigated by the department’s homicide unit, and ultimately, the department will take any official actions regarding the case.
Smith did not provide a date for when the department will make the board’s findings public.
“At the appropriate time,” Smith said.