The letter from an imprisoned former Baltimore detective begins roughly the same way it ends: “I do not know how Sean Suiter died.”
That didn’t stop former Gun Trace Task Force detective Daniel Hersl from speculating about Suiter’s 2017 death, or offering his tips and a theory that if the Baltimore homicide detective was going to testify against fellow officers, it would “put him in an extremely dangerous," situation.
Hersl’s Nov. 22 letter to the Maryland State Commissioner to Restore Trust in Policing came as Suiter’s November 2017 death again made headlines. Suiter was shot in his head one day before he was scheduled to testify to a federal grand jury in the racketeering case against the police Gun Trace Task Force.
His death continues to fuel debate. It was either homicide, as his family says; or suicide, as the police say.
A Maryland State Police report earlier this month led Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison to declare the case closed and Suiter’s death a suicide. The next day, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and the police union said the investigation actually remains open. Harrison backtracked, saying he misspoke when he called the investigation closed. He hasn’t publicly backed off, however, from a position that the detective killed himself.
Hersl, who is serving 18 years in federal prison for racketeering, waded into the controversy with his letter. He wrote state authorities to say his co-defendant, former detective Momodu Gondo, knew two people in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Bennett Place where Suiter was shot and killed.
“I am aware that both Suiter and Gondo were acquaintances with two individuals that resided in the neighborhood of Bennett Place,” Hersl wrote in the letter obtained by The Sun. “I did see all four meet a few times at Baltimore Police Department (BPD) headquarters.”
He then speculates that if Suiter intended to testify against Gondo, Bennett Place was an “an extremely dangerous Serpico Environment,” Hersl wrote, referring to the famed New York City undercover cop of four decades ago.
But court records show Gondo signed a deal to plead guilty and began cooperating with federal prosecutors in June — five months before Suiter was killed.
Gondo’s attorney, Warren Brown, dismissed Hersl’s letter as nothing more than the mindset of someone staring down nearly two decades in federal prison.
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“Gondo didn’t really have any insight into Suiter’s death,” Brown said. “In fact, he was also of the mind that this was suicide. He had no suspicion of any foul play. None.”
Hersl’s letter comes after the back-and-froth exchange this month over Suiter’s death. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison announced that a State Police review confirmed his determination that Suiter killed himself.
And the letter is but the latest from Hersl, who has written the commission more than a dozen others. In them, he claims to be a victim of “prosecutorial misconduct" and “prison trauma” and “fabricated” stories.
Hersl and seven other officers from the squad were convicted of racketeering and sentenced to federal prison. The officers — six accepted plea deals, two were convicted — stole money from citizens, lied on paperwork and bilked the city for unearned overtime pay. They are serving prison sentences that range from seven to 25 years.
Suiter’s death prompted an extraordinary police response — including cordoning off several blocks of the neighborhood for six days — that has been criticized by civil rights groups and a federal team overseeing court-ordered reforms in the department.
Earlier this week four residents, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit, saying the actions of officers turned the neighborhood into a “police state” and violated their rights.