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Panel to study Baltimore Police Det. Suiter killing includes policing experts, retired detectives

Baltimore Police commissioner Darryl De Sousa announced the members of the Independent Review Board, who are task to investigate the unsolved November killing of Det. Sean Suiter. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)

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

The Independent Review Board's two co-chairs — James "Chips" Stewart and James "Chip" Coldren Jr. — are both with CNA Consulting, the Arlington, Va., firm leading the effort. It has helped 200 police agencies across the country adopt body camera programs and conducted similar independent investigations into the deaths of police officers in Baltimore and other cities across the country.

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It also applied, unsuccessfully, to monitor the Baltimore consent decree, with both Stewart and Coldren members of the proposed team.

Stewart is a former director for the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. He served on previous independent panels that looked at controversial Baltimore cases, including the 2011 "friendly fire" shooting outside the Select Lounge that killed Officer William H. Torbit Jr. Stewart also led the panel that reviewed the 2013 death of Tyrone West in Baltimore police custody.

Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said Thursday that the panel will 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. It will also review "policies and procedures that are applicable to this incident and identify best practices" for the department moving forward, De Sousa said.

Stewart called Suiter's shooting "a real tragedy" for Baltimore.

"It takes a person away from their family, it takes him away from the Police Department, and it also is trauma for the community," Stewart said. "We're going to follow where the evidence leads us."

He said the team members selected have "lots of experience in investigating very difficult and challenging cases." He said the panel would likely produce its findings within six months, and "maybe even sooner than that."

Also on the Suiter panel is Charles P. Scheeler, senior counsel with the DLA Piper law firm. Scheeler led a DLA team that also had applied to be Baltimore's consent decree monitor.

The two retired homicide detectives named to the panel are Gary Childs and Marvin Sydnor.

Also on the panel are Rick Fuentes, a retired New Jersey State Police superintendent who served in the administration of Gov. Chris Christie and a reported finalist to head the Drug Enforcement Administration in the Trump administration, and Peter Modafferi, a retired chief of detectives in the Rockland County, N.Y., district attorney's office.

Fuentes and Modafferi were recommendations from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, De Sousa said. Others, including Childs and Sydnor, were internal recommendations from members of the Police Department, he said.

The board will operate under a memorandum of understanding with the city. The review will cost the Police Department $150,000, De Sousa said. The panel will not have subpoena power, but will interview witnesses, he said.

The findings of the panel will be made public, De Sousa said. The Police Department's homicide unit's investigation into Suiter's death will continue. De Sousa said he is not concerned that public reports of the independent panel might compromise the homicide investigation if it is still ongoing at the time those reports are released.

Suiter, a veteran homicide detective, was fatally shot with his own gun in a vacant West Baltimore lot one day before he was to testify before a federal grand jury in a corruption case involving fellow police officers.

Police have said Suiter was investigating a triple shooting in the Harlem Park neighborhood when he was fatally shot. At first, they said that happened during a brief but violent struggle with an unknown suspect. The Baltimore Sun later reported that investigators were also considering other theories, including that Suiter may have committed suicide.

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The Baltimore Sun exclusive: New details from the investigation into the death of Baltimore Det. Sean Suiter. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)

The case in which Suiter had been called to testify, against Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, was tangentially related to the broader corruption probe against Jenkins and other members of the Gun Trace Task Force — all of whom have since been convicted on federal racketeering charges.

The Maryland legislature approved the creation of a state panel to review corruption within the department and the Gun Trace Task Force case. That panel, which must be approved by Gov. Larry Hogan, is separate from the Suiter panel.

Suiter's case remains a top priority for the department, though little progress seems to have been made in recent months.

Just this week, Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said he was considering taking the investigation away from his homicide unit entirely because they were too close to the case. Some of the detectives were not just colleagues of Suiter, but close personal friends.

The new panel is not the first such body to be convened by the department. It established a similar body to investigate the deaths in police custody of Anthony Anderson and Tyrone West, as well as the Select Lounge shooting.

In the Select Lounge incident, Torbit, who was in plainclothes, was killed by fellow officers who didn't know he was a cop after Torbit fired his weapon as he was being kicked and stomped. Also killed was 22-year-old Sean Gamble. The shooting was the Baltimore Police Department's first incident of on-duty, fatal friendly fire in 80 years.

The review board in that case, appointed by then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, issued 33 recommendations to the Police Department. One called for improved supervision and training, including regarding police investigations of controversial incidents.

The West panel found that Baltimore police officers did not use excessive force, but made tactical errors that "potentially aggravated the situation" and did not follow basic policies.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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