Baltimore Police commissioner may remove homicide unit from Suiter case, calling their involvement 'unfair'

Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said Tuesday that he is considering removing the investigation into Det. Sean Suiter’s death from his department’s homicide unit entirely, because having them investigate their friend and colleague’s death was “unfair” from the start.

“It was unfair for them to have to investigate [the death of] one of their very own detectives, who worked on the floor with them in the homicide unit,” De Sousa said. “This is too close to home for them.”

It’s unclear what removing the case from the unit, which has already conducted a large-scale investigation, would mean. De Sousa said he was not sure who would take the case instead.

De Sousa’s comments come as the department is finalizing an agreement with a six-member panel — including two former Baltimore police detectives — to review Suiter’s unsolved death, and five months after the FBI rejected a request to take over the investigation from De Sousa’s predecessor, former Commissioner Kevin Davis.

City officials have until now described the role of the outside panel as assessing the case in support of the homicide unit, which would continue as the primary investigating body.

De Sousa said his homicide unit has already done a large amount of work, and that he believes its members are more than capable to continue in the role. “We have one of the best homicide units in the country,” he said.

But he said he also has concerns about the trauma involved in them investigating their friend’s death.

“These detectives, they create bonds with each other and friendships,” he said.

Suiter was fatally shot in the head in a vacant West Baltimore lot in November. The shooting has been ruled a homicide and sparked an immediate manhunt, a shut down of the Harlem Park neighborhood, and a massive homicide investigation in which police and city officials asked for the public’s help in finding an attacker.

However, since then, other theories about Suiter’s death have arisen, and The Baltimore Sun has reported that some in the police department now believe he committed suicide.

De Sousa’s comments Tuesday, in an interview with The Sun, added to others he made in a television interview aired Monday on WMAR, in which he said his homicide detectives “should not have taken this case from the onset.”

De Sousa told The Sun that it might have been better for the city to have immediately requested another local jurisdiction’s help in taking the lead in the investigation.

Such a request would not be common — but nothing about the Suiter case has been.

Davis asked the FBI to step in and take over the investigation in early December after learning that Suiter was due to testify before a federal grand jury the day after he was shot, in a case linked to the police department’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force.

Members of that unit were convicted of robbing residents and reselling drugs on the streets, among other offenses. In one case, Suiter was on the scene when members of the unit planted drugs on a man.

Suiter’s widow, Nicole Suiter, and officials from across the city and state — including Mayor Catherine Pugh, members of the city council and Baltimore’s delegation to Congress, Gov. Larry Hogan and police union president Lt. Gene Ryan — had all supported Davis’ request that the FBI take over the case.

In rejecting that request, FBI Assistant Director Stephen E. Richardson said the FBI had no evidence to suggest Suiter’s death was “directly connected” to the corruption probe or any other federal case, and believed it was “prudent” for the Baltimore Police Department to investigate Suiter’s death.

Afterward, Davis and Pugh said they were considering bringing other outside experts in to provide an independent set of eyes and advise the city’s homicide detectives in the case.

Pugh subsequently fired Davis in January and appointed De Sousa, a deputy commissioner under Davis, to replace him. De Sousa then announced the creation of an investigative review board in the Suiter case.

It’s not clear when that panel will be officially appointed, but De Sousa has said it will be soon.

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