They said beautiful things about Baltimore Police Det. Sean Suiter at his funeral — his children, the police commissioner, the mayor, the governor of Maryland, and a fellow detective named Jonathan Jones.
Jones quoted the 23rd Psalm: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Then he added this: “As homicide detectives, 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.”
“Lost” is a good word for where we are now with this horrible story, and it’s where we have been for almost three months: clueless about why a Baltimore homicide detective was killed, and who killed him.
The funeral was on a warm day in late November, two weeks after Suiter was shot on a vacant lot in West Baltimore while investigating a homicide. He was on a street known for drug dealers and their lookouts.
Hundreds of police officers and long lines of detectives in fine suits attended the service at Mount Pleasant Church on the east side of the city. Suiter received the same honors accorded other officers who died in the line of duty, and I guess I’ve been around long enough to have lost track of how many such funerals I’ve attended.
But, of course, Suiter’s death is different.
We have never seen the likes of this before, at least not in my experience, and that covers 42 years in Baltimore.
Suiter’s death was ruled a homicide by the Maryland’s chief medical examiner, and yet no one has been arrested. In fact, Suiter’s is the only line-of-duty slaying of a Baltimore police officer that remains unsolved, which makes it unique in its dreadfulness. Nearly three months on, we still do not know what happened to one of our detectives, and the offer of a $215,000 reward has not drawn truth from the streets.
Suiter was not the first officer to be killed with his own gun, but that intensifies the mystery surrounding his death.
Suiter was scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury investigating police corruption. He was shot the night before that was to happen. That revelation fueled an explosion of speculations. But Baltimore’s police commissioner at the time, Kevin Davis, said federal authorities had no evidence that Suiter’s death was “directly connected” to the corruption investigation or any other federal case.
There was also talk that Suiter might have taken his own life. But the medical examiner’s ruling of homicide — presumably based on autopsy, ballistics and physical evidence at the scene — put that theory to rest, at least officially.
“At autopsy, most self-inflicted gunshot wounds are either at close or contact range,” says Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist in San Francisco and co-author of a book on her experiences as a medical examiner. “However, if someone managed to struggle with a police officer and take their weapon away, they could also the shoot the officer at close or contact range. … It is most often the scene and circumstances that support a determination of homicide versus suicide, and not just the autopsy or laboratory evidence.”
Now this: More than two months after Suiter’s full-honors funeral, a Baltimore police detective from the notorious Gun Trace Task Force dragged his name into the mud. Momodu Gondo, who faces up to 60 years in prison, testified that he and Suiter, along with other officers, had stolen money from people they encountered on duty.
The testimony coming out of federal court has revealed a level of depravity almost beyond imagining. Eight members of the task force have been indicted on federal charges; six have pleaded guilty. The two left standing are on trial.
If Baltimoreans are feeling shell-shocked, there’s good reason. We’ve gone from Freddie Gray to a riot to a violent crime surge to what must be the worst scandal in the history of the BPD to the unsolved killing of a detective.
As for Suiter — he has no way to defend himself. Until Gondo spoke, the narrative had been clean: Suiter was a well-liked, easy-to-smile, hard-working detective and the married father of five children.
The fact that he was shot the night before he was to testify still fuels speculation about his death, but Davis said federal authorities assured him “in no uncertain terms” that Suiter was not a target of their investigation. The feds, he said, had no reason to believe Suiter’s killing was connected to his pending testimony.
So who knows what to believe? If what the feds told Davis is true, and if what Gondo said was true, Suiter was probably in the midst of doing the right thing by cooperating with the feds.
Which makes the manner of his death, the timing of his death, the open questions of who and why — the unsolved homicide of a homicide detective — uniquely dreadful in this long season of dreadful.