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Baltimore police chief to panel reviewing investigation of Suiter's death: 'Go where the evidence leads you'

Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa on Thursday told the panel created to review the investigation of Det. Sean Suiter's killing to "go where the evidence leads you," before the group was scheduled to spend hours discussing the unsolved case in private.

"We are not going to reinvestigate a homicide," but assess the police work that's been done, said James "Chips" Stewart, one of the co-chairs of the Independent Review Board.

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The board is expected to issue a comprehensive report of its "assessment of the facts and circumstances, and conclusion and findings of this tragic act," to the police commissioner, Stewart said.

The review is expected to take 90 to 180 days, and police spokesman T.J. Smith said De Sousa intends to make the report public.

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Suiter, a homicide detective, was shot once in the head with his own service weapon in a vacant lot in Harlem Park in West Baltimore on Nov. 15. Some in the police department believe he was killed, others believe he committed suicide. The investigation is ongoing.

The independent panel created to review the Baltimore Police Department’s investigation into the unsolved November killing of Det. Sean Suiter will include seven law enforcement analysts and policing experts, including two retired Baltimore homicide detectives, police confirmed Thursday.

The city Board of Estimates recently approved $149,000 for the Independent Review board to study the department's response. The board includes seven law enforcement analysts and policing experts, including two retired Baltimore homicide detectives.

"Collectively we probably have several hundred years of homicide instigative experience," Stewart said Thursday, after each of the board members introduced themselves at the meeting. He said several members have previously worked in Baltimore, but have been away for some time, providing some separation from the department. Other members, he said, are nationally recognized for their expertise in homicide investigations.

De Sousa briefly addressed the group, which met at police headquarters downtown.

"This is critically important for Baltimore, for the entire city," De Sousa told the panel. "Each day since the incident, I walk around the community [and] a lot of people want answers as to what happened."

De Sousa has asked the board to review the Suiter shooting itself and the police department's investigation of it — including incident command, crime scene investigation, security around the Harlem Park neighborhood during the investigation and police interactions with community members there.

A special team within the Baltimore Police Department designed to investigate cases in which officers use force or discharge their weapons has “shadowed” homicide detectives from the beginning of their investigation into the fatal shooting of Det. Sean Suiter, the department confirmed Wednesday.

"I need to know if we did a good job, the best practices moving forward," he said.

De Sousa said transparency about the incident and the department's response after is critical to building trust in the community. He said he wanted know, "how did we act, and our interaction with the community…. did we do the right things?"

Many have criticized the department's closure of several city blocks for days after the shooting while police scoured the neighborhood for a suspect and evidence.

The majority of Thursday's meeting, including discussions on the homicide investigation, and the department's response, were held behind closed doors.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland on Wednesday expressed concern in a letter that the meeting was largely closed to the public, including the board's discussions on the department's response in the Harlem Park neighborhood in the aftermath of the shooting.

In response to the ACLU, Stewart said in a letter that the meeting was closed because the Suiter death investigation remains an "open and active criminal investigation, these are not subjects for an open meeting under the OMA [Open Meetings Act law]."

Stewart said that discussion around the department's response in Harlem Park, was "personnel matters" relating to "the compliance by BPD employees with BPD's policies and legal obligations," and that the information is also "inextricably entwined with the facts and circumstances of the ongoing criminal investigation."

De Sousa said he has met with Suiter's wife several times, and has discussed the review board's process and that she's met some of the members.

"It's a very difficult task," De Sousa said. Everybody pretty much wants answers."

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