Baltimore has agreed to pay workers compensation benefits to the family of Sean Suiter, walking away from what was anticipated to be a dispute about whether his death was a homicide or suicide.
The agreement was disclosed Thursday after a scheduled workers compensation hearing in the case was scrapped. Suiter was shot in the head on Nov. 15, 2017, while out with a partner, and his death was ruled a homicide.
Three years later, it remains listed as a homicide, though police at one point moved to close the case and an outside panel determined he most likely took his own life and staged it to look like a homicide.
“The big question always with the Suiter case is ‘what happened.’ We don’t answer those questions by way of this settlement — the settlement does not include a determination of a cause of death, or whether that death was in the line of duty," City Solicitor Dana Moore said. "It simply resolves a civil claim that Detective Suiter’s family is entitled to workers compensation benefits.”
Moore did not disclose the terms of the settlement, but said it is expected to go before the Board of Estimates for approval next week.
Charles Schultz, an attorney for Suiter’s widow, said that the city had been gearing up to argue that Suiter committed suicide.
“It was found to be a homicide, and that conclusion three years later has never changed, and yet the benefits have never been paid,” Schultz said.
He said the agreement had not been finalized, but called the resolution in the case “the first step in vindicating [Suiter’s] name.”
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, who was not involved in the process, said in a statement: “I believe that this settlement is the right thing to do and does not preclude our ongoing investigation. We continue to work with the State’s Attorney’s Office on completing all investigative steps related to the death of Det. Suiter.”
Moore said the workers compensation claim was just one of a number of benefits the Suiter family has received or can, including life insurance and pension payouts.
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.
Police and federal agents flooded the neighborhood, questioning residents and, according to a federal lawsuit by the ACLU, “creating a police state.”
The shooting was later disclosed to have 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. Investigators soon started questioning whether Suiter had actually taken his own life.
Police have said since that they believe the shots were fired from Suiter’s service weapon, which was found underneath his body. Members of 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.
Jeremy Eldridge, whom Suiter had retained for the grand jury proceedings, has maintained that Suiter was not fearful of being implicated in that scandal, and his family has denounced the police investigation as a “coverup.”
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 they later learned was Suiter. He told police the information was secondhand.
After receiving a second review of the case by the Maryland State Police, Harrison — who was not commissioner at the time of the shooting — said last year he was moving to close the case, saying there was no reason to suspect “anything other than a suicide.”
But the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office objected and said it was continuing to pursue lingering investigative threads, and the case remains open.
Moore said the city believed it had an argument against paying the workers compensation benefits based on an issue with the statute of limitations. She said the city believes the workers compensation commission tends to favor families.
“On balance, after a lot of thought, a lot of consideration, us asking ourselves what’s the right thing to do here, all things considered, we opted to settle,” Moore said.