Sean Suiter's death is still unsolved, and finger-pointing won't help

We agree with Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa’s decision to impanel an outside group of investigators to try to solve the mystery of Det. Sean Suiter’s death, and in retrospect, his contention that it was unfair to expect the department’s homicide unit, of which Suiter was a beloved member, to handle the case seems right, too. We now know that investigators are divided over whether Suiter was murdered or committed suicide and that both sides on that question have evidence to back up their assertions. We have no idea what the truth is, of course, but given the homicide detectives’ personal relationships with Suiter — not to mention the possibility that a ruling of suicide could make his family ineligible for certain survivor benefits — it’s reasonable to wonder whether members of the unit could approach the question as objectively as they would any other case. And all else aside, it has been five months since Suiter’s death. It’s time to try something new.

What’s not helpful is the resumption of finger-pointing and blame-shifting among those who have been involved in the case. Mayor Catherine Pugh and former police chief Kevin Davis argued this week about whose idea it was to request that the FBI take over the case. To some extent, it doesn’t really matter — the FBI declined, after all. But in a broader sense, it speaks to the degree to which politics have swallowed up this investigation in ways that have at least prevented the public from understanding the truth of what we know and what we don’t. Commissioner De Sousa is taking steps (with Mayor Pugh’s support) that hold out the hope of moving us past that.

Mr. Davis said this week that the decision to call for the FBI to take over the case was his alone. Mayor Pugh says it was her idea. In a text message in December, he said he and the mayor had “been in constant communication about this decision.” When asked Wednesday when she had told Mr. Davis to ask the FBI to take over, Mayor Pugh said “right after [Suiter’s] funeral.” In December (and in a follow-up interview Thursday) she said the decision had been made before the funeral but was only announced afterward out of deference to Suiter’s family.

Back then, the timing was an issue because both Mayor Pugh and Mr. Davis wanted to make clear that they were not reacting to a letter from City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Councilman Brandon Scott requesting that the city ask the FBI to take over. Now it comes across as a proxy fight for who realized first that the investigation was going nowhere.

The political cross-currents that have gathered around the Suiter case are by now intense. It was obvious soon after his death that they were impacting the way the department talked about the case — first in justifying the virtual lock-down of a West Baltimore neighborhood and then in explaining the news that Suiter was due to appear as a witness in the Gun Trace Task Force case. As time has gone on, it has become apparent that they could be affecting the department’s ability to dispassionately consider all the possibilities of what happened.

Mr. Davis is making Commissioner De Sousa’s statement this week out to be an attack on the professionalism of the city’s homicide detectives. We don’t read it that way, or even necessarily as a criticism of Mr. Davis’ initial handling of the case. The evidence that has emerged is simply far more perplexing than it first appeared, and the possibilities that emerged are much more emotionally fraught for Suiter’s former colleagues than could initially have been imagined. We see Commissioner De Sousa’s judgment as one made with hindsight and a recognition that we are no closer to a definitive answer about Suiter’s death now than we were the day it happened. The Suiter family, the police department and the public deserve for all those involved to put their egos aside and allow a fresh set of eyes to look at this case and follow the facts wherever they lead. The panel Mr. De Sousa announced this week will provide us just that.

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