The widow of Baltimore Police Det. Sean Suiter called the city’s decision to approve $900,000 in workers’ compensation benefits a “first step” toward justice for her family.
The payout was approved unanimously and without discussion Wednesday morning by the city’s Board of Estimates, after a settlement was reached last week, just prior to a hearing in which the city was expected to contest the circumstances of Suiter’s death nearly three years ago.
“You do not win workers’ compensation cases unless you are injured, hurt or killed on the job — this, to me, is the first steps to acknowledge that Sean was murdered, and the beginning of what my family needs, which is peace of mind,” said Nicole Suiter, reading from a statement outside of City Hall. “Sean cannot rest in peace until justice is completed.
City Solicitor Dana Moore told The Baltimore Sun last week that from the city’s perspective the settlement sidesteps the question of what happened to Sean Suiter, and “simply resolves a civil claim that Detective Suiter’s family is entitled to workers' compensation benefits."
Charles Schultz, a workers' compensation attorney representing the family, said the claim appeared headed for a contested hearing in front of the state workers' compensation commission, which if appealed would have gone to a jury trial in the Circuit Court.
Schultz said Wednesday that the city had “done the right thing and acknowledged that Sean Suiter’s death was a work-related injury.”
There are a variety of benefits paid out to the families of officers who die in the line of duty. Nicole Suiter said the workers' compensation is the first that she has received, despite her husband’s case being listed as an open homicide case for three years.
Amy Baskerville, communications director for the Baltimore City Fire and Police Employees' Retirement System, said the Suiter family is receiving a non-line of duty pension, but that a hearing on whether his pension should be upgraded to a line of duty death is pending because the medical examiner’s report is not final. “Until we get a coroner’s report, we are in limbo,” Baskerville said.
Suiter was on duty Nov. 15, 2017 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. Authorities offered a six-figure reward for leads in the case.
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. 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 under his body. Members of an outside 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.”
After receiving a second review of the case by the Maryland State Police, Police Commissioner Michael 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.
Harrison said last week that he believed the 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.”
Eldridge said Wednesday that Suiter “gave his life for the city he loved."
“We look forward to the day when the crime is finally solved,” Eldridge said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Hallie Miller contributed to this article.
This news was included in our weekday morning audio briefing on Oct. 29. Here’s how to listen.