The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office is continuing to investigate the possibility that Baltimore Police detective Sean Suiter was killed, as a memo sheds new light on why they are pressing forward even though police announced they had no reason to suspect “anything other than a suicide” and were closing the case.
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison’s declaration last week prompted a frustrated memo from city prosecutors, outlining “recent developments” in their investigation as well as pending tasks that could potentially incriminate — or clear — a possible suspect.
“I was surprised to learn of this press release given the recent developments in the investigation,” Patrick R. Seidel, chief of the State’s Attorney’s Office’s Major Investigations Unit, wrote in the memo.
Harrison quickly backtracked, and on Thursday issued a statement saying he misspoke and that the investigation is not finished.
The memo, obtained by The Sun, also alleges that a police officer “improperly removed” the potential suspect’s cell phones from evidence control, and says there’s an open internal investigation into the matter.
On Thursday, Harrison said the Suiter investigation remains open but did not discuss why the department had seemingly discarded the open tasks.
The public statement that the case had been closed came after Harrison received a second review of the investigation from Maryland State Police. Harrison said that review resulted in no “suggestion that the case should be re-investigated or continued.” City police have not released the state police report.
“I should have chosen a better word last week when I said the investigation into the death of Sean Suiter was closed," Harrison’s statement Thursday said. "There are still investigative steps that need to be taken and the case is continuing. The medical examiner will ultimately make the final determination regarding Det. Suiter’s cause of death.”
A medical examiner’s spokesman said he could not comment on the case because of the ongoing state’s attorney’s office investigation.
Suiter was fatally shot Nov. 15, 2017, and his death was ruled a homicide by the state medical examiner’s office. But police came to believe that Suiter may have taken his own life, and commissioned an outside review of the evidence by a panel of law enforcement professionals that concluded Suiter’s death was likely a suicide.
The shooting occurred the day before Suiter was scheduled to testify in front of a federal grand jury about an evidence-planting incident related to the Gun Trace Task Force scandal.
But Suiter’s attorney Jeremy Eldridge has maintained that Suiter was not fearful of being implicated in that scandal, and his family has denounced the police investigation as a “coverup.” They are staging a protest outside City Hall on Friday afternoon, the anniversary of the death.
Eldridge said he is aware of the work being led by prosecutors, and said he was “elated” that authorities continue to pursue leads.
“This is the first time in the last two years that everyone seems to be on the same page about there being an active investigation into his murder,” Eldridge said.
Suiter was on duty with another detective, David Bomenka, when the shooting occurred. According to Bomenka, the two separated, and Suiter ran into a vacant lot. Multiple shots were fired, and Suiter was found face down in the lot with a gunshot wound to the head.
Det. Sean Suiter’s death found to be suicide, but family disputes the ruling by the Baltimore Police Commissioner.
Police have since said that they believe the shots were fired from Suiter’s service weapon, which was found underneath his body. The independent review board concluded that they believed Suiter was nervous about his grand jury testimony and took his own life, staging it to look like a murder so his family could receive line of duty benefits.
Authorities offered a six-figure reward for leads in the case, and received dozens. Among those was a tip from a federal confidential informant, who told detectives an account of someone getting into a struggle with and shooting a man who they later learned was Suiter. He told police the information was secondhand. The man said he knew the name of the man who told him the story, but that he never got the name of the person who did the shooting.
The man’s account surfaced last year, but police dismissed it, with department spokesman Matt Jablow saying: “Our detectives have looked into the information given to us in the interview, and we do not believe it to be a credible lead."
But it is that man’s information that prosecutors, working with Baltimore Police detectives, are continuing to run down. Seidel’s memo says the man identified by the informant was located in the Midwest, and has recently been interviewed by detectives who collected a DNA sample from him. It did not provide a date for either event.
Prosecutors also had search warrants executed on the man’s cell phones, “despite previous orders inexplicably directing that the phones not be searched,” Seidel wrote in the memo.
Prosecutors asked that police conduct tests comparing the possible suspect’s DNA to evidence from the scene, and to test DNA on fingernail samples from Suiter.
Those efforts would appear to conflict with statements from police and the IRB that Suiter’s hands were cleaned with peroxide at the hospital, impeding efforts to perform a gunshot residue test or collect other material from his hands.
Gary Childs, a retired city and county detective who led the independent review’s efforts, told The Sun last year that he believed there were no open questions about DNA evidence.
“I talked to the head of the crime lab and their DNA people. There’s things, they call them ‘shadows,’ but it’s not like there’s an unknown profile there,” Childs said. “If there was any [unknown profiles], I would’ve pursued it.”
In addition to pursuing evidence against the possible suspect, the prosecutor’s memo raises questions about a city police officer working on a federal task force, who Seidel wrote had improperly removed the possible suspect’s cell phones from evidence control. The memo said there is an open internal affairs investigation of the officer’s actions, and prosecutors asked for a list of other pieces of evidence removed from evidence control by the officer. Police confirmed there is an internal investigation but would not discuss specifics.
Suiter’s wife, Nicole, and her family have criticized the investigation into Suiter’s death. They said investigators have yet to talk to her about her husband’s state of mind before his death. She said she does not believe her husband took his own life.
Harrison briefly spoke about the case Thursday afternoon during an interview with Tom Hall, host of WYPR’s Midday radio show, where he said there are “a few action items that are underway,” but he did not elaborate.
Ultimately, he said the decision rests with the medical examiner’s office to determine if Suiter’s death was a homicide or suicide.