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Crime

Mourners pay respects to slain Baltimore detective as investigation nears two-week mark

A viewing for slain Baltimore homicide Detective Sean Suiter was held Monday as the investigation into his death neared the two-week mark with no answers.

No new details have emerged about the case since the night before Thanksgiving, when police disclosed that Suiter was killed on the eve of his scheduled testimony before a federal grand jury investigating a corrupt squad of city police officers.

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Though Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said police had no reason to believe the shooting was related to the testimony, it makes Suiter’s death not just the killing of a police officer — but also of a federal witness in a police corruption case.

Some experts questioned whether Baltimore Police should ask federal authorities to take the lead on the investigation to give the public greater confidence in its findings.

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David M. Shapiro, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said having another agency take on the homicide investigation would significantly boost the public’s confidence in its conclusions and eliminate any suggestion of impropriety.

Shapiro, a former prosecutor and FBI agent, said the case requires “impartial competent investigators looking at it.”

“If an investigation is not deemed to be impartial and credible it has no value,” Shapiro said.

Maria Haberfeld, another John Jay professor, said the Baltimore Police Department’s long-running problems with corruption were another reason to turn the case over to an outside agency.

“At this point I have very little faith in this department to conduct an impartial investigation,” said Haberfeld, who teaches police ethics.

But elected officials didn’t share the sentiment.

Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said she had confidence that Baltimore Police and federal authorities already are working together on the case.

“The FBI is on this investigation. The Police Department is on this investigation. I hope the community oversight committee is taking a look at it,” Pugh said. “The more eyes the better. We want to make sure every ‘I’ is dotted and every ‘T’ is crossed. It’s not about what people think or their opinions. With the FBI and the Police Department, I believe that we will come to the right conclusion.”

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Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Sarbanes declined to comment.

State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who said she conducted an independent investigation into the 2015 death of Freddie Gray and has called into question the the impartiality of police investigating cases involving their own officers, also declined through a spokeswoman to comment on whether an independent investigation was needed.

Davis said in a statement: "The Baltimore Police Department investigates murders in Baltimore. We are receiving assistance from our federal partners as we move forward with this investigation.”

Never in the Police Department’s history has the killing of an on-duty officer gone unsolved. In almost every case, a suspect was identified immediately and apprehended, according to a book on the department's line-of-duty deaths since 1808. Even in the case of the Veney brothers, who were on the run for more than three months after shooting two police officers in 1964, authorities identified them quickly.

A $215,000 reward remains available for information related to Suiter’s killing but does not seem to have brought investigators any closer to a resolution.

The indictments of members of the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force stemmed from a federal investigation as DEA agents working a drug case picked up Detective Momodu Gondo talking to drug dealers. They notified the FBI, which began monitoring the elite task force.

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Seven members were arrested in March and charged with robbing citizens, falsifying evidence, and taking unearned overtime. Federal prosecutors have continued to bring charges, with a former supervisor of the unit also charged as well as a Philadelphia police officer who used to work in Baltimore. Four of the indicted officers, including Gondo, have pleaded guilty in the case.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland, which directs federal investigations, declined to comment on the case or what role it was playing in the investigation of Suiter’s death.

The FBI, the lead federal law enforcement agency on the investigation of the Gun Trace Task Force, also declined to comment beyond a statement that it was offering assistance.

Suiter, an 18-year veteran and married father of five, was shot in the head on Nov. 15 while conducting an investigation in Harlem Park. Police have not named the partner who was with him, but The Sun has identified the officer through sources as Detective David Bomenka.

Davis has said Suiter and a partner saw a "suspicious person" 20 minutes before the shooting. Davis said Bomenka was "in the immediate vicinity" when the shooting broke out, and later said he appears on surveillance camera footage taking cover across the street.

Bomenka did not have a radio but quickly called 911 from his cell phone.

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"Detective Suiter's partner has been talking to the homicide detectives nonstop since this incident," Davis said last week. "You can imagine the trauma he’s experiencing right now. We’re surrounding him and getting whatever help he needs to get through this as well."

Bomenka, who joined the homicide unit earlier this year, is a 10-year veteran of the force.

He received praise from then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in August 2015 when he apprehended suspects in a car crash on live television while wearing a white seersucker suit. Before joining the homicide unit, he investigated nonfatal shooting cases.

Police say Suiter was killed with his own gun at close range, and the weapon was recovered from the scene. Police have no description of a suspect beyond a black man wearing a black jacket with a white stripe, referring to the man the detectives saw 20 minutes before the shooting.

Davis said he believes Suiter was involved in a brief and violent struggle, and said he made a brief, unintelligible transmission over his radio in which gunfire can be heard in the background. Suiter was still clutching the radio in his left hand when other officers arrived at the scene.

On Monday afternoon, a line of mourners waiting to pay their respects to Suiter wrapped around a room at a Randallstown funeral home. They paused by the casket where the detective’s body was dressed in a dark suit and tie, and white gloves.

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Some hugged family members seated in the front row. Two uniformed Baltimore County police officers stopped before reaching the casket to put their hats on before saluting the officer.

Steward Nash, 74, said he did not know Suiter but read about the officer’s death through the local news and wanted to pay his respects.

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“I want to thank his family for keeping us all safe. Without our officers, what kind of state would we have?” he said.

A group of Maryland Transportation Authority Police were among officers from various agencies in attendance. “When an officer is killed in the line of duty, we think about our own families, his family,” Officer Gary Williams said.

Jerome Dukes, a substitute teacher in Baltimore County, said he didn’t know Suiter but he knew Harlem Park, because he spent part of his childhood there.

“It’s just not like it used to be,” said Dukes, who now lives in Northwest Baltimore. “It’s like life doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s just sad.”

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A second viewing is scheduled from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Vaughn Greene Funeral home, 8728 Liberty Road, in Randallstown.

A funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Mount Pleasant Church, at 6000 Radecke Ave., followed by a procession to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.

Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.


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