Nearly 24 hours after the November 2017 shooting of Baltimore Police Detective Sean Suiter in a vacant Harlem Park lot, a police SWAT team forced its way into a home next door. It didn’t have a warrant.
Inside, officers saw signs of a home under renovation — concrete mix, tiles and rolls of insulation.
They also found a gun box and dozens of rounds of ammunition.
Officers closed up the place and went to a judge seeking a warrant after the fact, wrote attorneys for a man connected to those items in a federal court filing. The attorneys argue that Baltimore Police lied to the judge by claiming they saw a blood trail leading into the dwelling, when in fact there was just blood in the backyard.
In the end the gun box and ammunition had nothing to do with the Suiter case. They did, however, help federal investigators link the gun box to a weapon used in an abduction and killing that occurred nearly a year earlier. The man charged in that case, Sydni Frazier, already had been arrested and was awaiting trial, and federal investigators want to use the new evidence to bolster their case.
A U.S. District Court judge will hear arguments Tuesday on whether to allow evidence gathered in the search to be used in the federal prosecution of Frazier.
Frazier’s attorneys are crying foul, saying police conducted an illegal search, and then, in an effort to get a warrant after the fact, misled a judge by saying they had a legitimate right to initially enter the home without a warrant.
The dispute offers new insight into the police tactics used in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Harlem Park after the shooting of Suiter.
The ACLU of Maryland has filed a lawsuit about police locking down the surrounding area, preventing residents from accessing their homes. The Baltimore Sun also reported last month on new documents showing that judges authorized the DEA to set up a slew of wiretaps for people in the area; and that police also used a drug warrant for a man’s wife to take him in for questioning after they received a tip, since dismissed, that he had shot Suiter.
Suiter’s death remains classified an unsolved homicide, but police have sought to close the case after an outside panel and the Maryland State Police found that he likely took his own life.
Police raided the home at Bennett Place and Schroeder Street after Suiter was killed. In a sworn affidavit dated Nov. 16, 2017, Det. Joseph Brown Jr. wrote that “due to the close proximity of this location and evidence of suspected blood leading to this location, said dwelling was entered for emergency and well-being check of a possible secondary victim.”
According to an independent review board that examined the investigation of Suiter’s death, there was only a pool of blood at the edge of the lot furthest from the home.
“While there was blood in the backyard, it did not lead to the dwelling,” wrote Frazier’s attorney, Christopher Davis, in a recent motion.
Police did not respond to requests for comment about the search, the warrant and the assertion in the affidavit about the blood connecting to the home.
Frazier was in jail well before Suiter’s shooting, arrested in January 2017 and then indicted in July 2017 on federal charges alleging he was a member of the Murdaland Mafia Piru gang and had killed a man named Ricardo Johnson.
Johnson was abducted in December 2016 and found dead in the back of a van ditched in the Westport area of South Baltimore; he had been bound and was shot 21 times. The evening after Johnson died, police chased Frazier while trying to stop him for a dirt bike violation. As he fled, he discarded a bag with two guns, which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says matched guns used in Johnson’s killing.
It’s not clear how the gun box — described as an empty Taurus box — was connected to the murder weapon. Taurus is a Brazilian manufacturer of handguns.
The house police raided was Frazier’s childhood home and owned by an acquaintance of his mother, his attorneys say. Frazier was renovating it for use as an assisted care facility by the owners, and occasionally stayed there.
They note that the home was secured with “functional locks and the windows were intact and backed by plywood.” While the Housing Authority was in the process was taking possession of the property, police didn’t know that when they charged in, Frazier’s attorneys say.
While the response of the U.S. Attorney’s Office was filed under seal, it is summarized by Frazier’s attorneys in a reply. The federal prosecutors contend Frazier “lacks standing to contest [the search] because he did not have a legitimate, reasonable expectation of privacy in the home," and that Frazier “relinquished any expectation of privacy” because he was incarcerated.
Even if Frazier prevails with suppressing the search, it wouldn’t end federal prosecutors’ case against him. When charging Frazier, prosecutors said they found a pair of gloves that had Frazier’s DNA on the inside, and Johnson’s on the outside.
Johnson was killed, at least in part, prosecutors allege, because he was rumored to be cooperating with law enforcement. Wiretap calls “established that the victim had been deemed an enemy of [Murdaland Mafia Piru], and members of the gang wanted him dead,” prosecutors wrote.
Frazier also faces drug charges, with authorities saying he sent text messages related to heroin distribution in December 2016 and January 2017, and was recorded on other calls.