Two powerful Baltimore city councilmen called on Thursday for the police department to turn over the investigation into the killing of Det. Sean Suiter to federal authorities.
The move came as federal prosecutors filed a new indictment against Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, a former member of Baltimore’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force, alleging that he duped Suiter seven years ago into finding drugs Jenkins had planted in a man’s car. Prosecutors disclosed Thursday that because of those allegations, they quietly released the man from prison in August.
Umar Burley had served seven years of a 15-year sentence related to the drugs. Prosecutors now say he was innocent.
The indictment provided clarity to the stunning disclosure last week that Suiter was killed the day before he was scheduled to testify before a grand jury investigating the gun task force. Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has said police have no information to suggest Suiter’s death was related to his scheduled testimony.
But questions about the detective’s death continue to swirl, as the killing remains unsolved despite a $215,000 reward. In a letter to Davis, City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young and Councilman Brandon Scott called for the police department to turn over the investigation to the FBI.
“An independently conducted investigation would be the quickest way to provide the public and those who loved Det. Suiter with the answers they rightly deserve,” Young and Scott wrote.
Davis said he would not comment on the councilmen’s letter until Friday.
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said police and federal authorities were already working closely together, and criticized the councilmen.
“The FBI has been involved since the very beginning. The FBI is engaged in this,” Pugh said. “The police department has already turned over information to the FBI. There is a process.”
For now, it is the only line-of-duty killing in the agency’s history that is unsolved.
Suiter, an 18-year veteran, was mortally wounded in a vacant lot in West Baltimore on Nov. 15 while investigating a triple homicide. Police say he was shot in the head with his own gun, which was recovered from the scene, after a brief struggle with an unknown suspect.
Eight days into the investigation, Davis told the public that federal authorities had disclosed to him the night before that Suiter was scheduled to testify before the grand jury investigating the gun task force. In that case, eight Baltimore police officers have been charged with racketeering conspiracy, with allegations that include robbing citizens, falsifying reports, selling seized drugs and guns, participating in home invasions, and earning fraudulent overtime. Four have pleaded guilty. Jenkins and three others are scheduled to face trial.
Burley was sitting in a car on April 28, 2010 when police said they saw a man holding cash get into the passenger side. Jenkins wrote in charging documents at the time that police suspected a drug transaction had taken place, and officers moved to box in the car. Jenkins and another detective, Ryan Guinn, pulled in front, while Suiter pulled up from behind in a separate vehicle.
Police said Burley took off at a high speed and eluded the officers, then got into a crash that killed 87-year-old Albert Davis, the father of a police officer. After searching Burley’s car, Jenkins wrote, Suiter found heroin.
Federal prosecutors now say “Jenkins knew the heroin [in the car] had been planted.”
In a new indictment unsealed Thursday afternoon, prosecutors wrote that Jenkins told Guinn that he was going to send Suiter to search the car because he was “clueless” that Jenkins had planted drugs.
Davis said at a news conference that Suiter was “set up” by Jenkins to find the drugs, and was not involved “in any way, shape, or form.”
“That’s a damn shame,” Davis said.
Jenkins later listened in on calls Burley and the other man, Brent Matthews, made while in jail. Jenkins told Guinn that “they were saying that the heroin recovered from the car had been planted on them,” federal prosecutors wrote.
“Jenkins told [Guinn] that Jenkins could not testify if the case went to trial because ‘something had been put in the car,’ or words to that effect, referring to the heroin that had been planted in [Burley’s] car,” prosecutors said.
Jenkins’ attorney, Steve Levin, declined to comment on the new accusations.
Jenkins was the supervisor in charge of the Gun Trace Task Force when federal authorities leveled their wide-ranging indictment in February.
Federal authorities have continued to investigate allegations of misconduct surrounding Jenkins and other members of the task force, bringing additional charges in the case and adding defendants.
Jenkins, 37, has not entered a plea, but is tentatively scheduled to go to trial in January. He already faced charges of racketeering conspiracy, robbery, and use of a firearm, and the new case brings additional charges including “destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.”
Davis said Thursday he hopes Jenkins would be “put underneath of a jail.”
“This guy was able to operate with impunity on this Police Department for far too long,” Davis said. “If there are any other people associated with him or that federal investigation … I need to know who these people are.”
Suiter and Guinn are not identified by name in the new documents. “Officer #1” is described as the officer who found the drugs, who is identified in the original charging documents as Suiter. “Officer #2” is described as the detective riding in Jenkins’ vehicle, who is identified in the original documents as Guinn.
Guinn has not been charged with a crime. The Sun attempted to contact Guinn about the case this week, and a police spokesman said the agency would not make him available for an interview.
Burley had written to U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake shortly after Jenkins was indicted, saying he wanted someone to take a new look at his case.
“Could you imagine how hard it is to be here for a crime I didn’t commit and struggling to find clarity and justice on my own,” Burley said in a handwritten letter in June that is included in his court file.
Burley and Matthews, who was also arrested in the incident, had initially contested the charges against them.
They eventually pleaded guilty “despite the fact they knew they were innocent” because of the weight the court would give the officers’ testimony, federal prosecutors wrote Thursday.
Burley also pleaded guilty in state court to manslaughter in the crash death and was sentenced to 10 years, and in February was transferred to federal custody to finish his drug sentence.
Prosecutors filed motions on Thursday to vacate the convictions of Burley and Matthews, who served about four years in prison for his conviction.
Burley and Matthews were not available for comment Thursday, but their attorney Steven D. Silverman said the “toll this has taken” on the men “is immeasurable.”