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Store owner near where Baltimore detective Suiter was killed says police seized, damaged surveillance cameras

The owner of a corner store on the West Baltimore block where Detective Sean Suiter was fatally shot in November has filed a legal complaint against the Baltimore Police Department, seeking $10,000 in damages to replace a video surveillance system that he says police “forcefully removed” after the shooting.

Christopher Akpala, owner of the Uac Food Mart in the 900 block of Bennett Place in Harlem Park, filed the so-called “detinue” — a legal claim to recover wrongfully seized property — in January, according to court records. It was later amended to remove former Commissioner Kevin Davis as a defendant and add the current commissioner, Darryl De Sousa.

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Akpala is requesting the payment to replace the camera system and for damages associated with the department “endangering [his] life” by seizing the camera system, according to the complaint.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun this week, Akpala said police “dumped” the cameras back at his store after he filed the complaint, but they no longer work and he is maintaining his claim for full damages.

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A hearing in the case has been scheduled for April 3 in Baltimore District Court.

Despite no apparent progress in the investigation into the killing of Baltimore homicide detective Sean Suiter, police say they do not consider the investigation to be a “cold case.” Baltimore Police chief spokesman T.J. Smith said police continue to receive information in the 3 month old case

T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, declined to comment on the pending legal matter.

It is unclear what, if anything, the seized cameras captured on the day of Suiter’s shooting — which shocked the city and led to the street, and other parts of Harlem Park, being cordoned off for a week.

Police have acknowledged having some surveillance footage from the area, but Smith would not say whether that footage was from Akpala’s cameras — two of which are visible, facing the street, on the facade of the corner building where the store is located.

Akpala’s store is on the opposite end of the block, and on the same side of the street, as the vacant lot where Suiter was shot with his own gun on Nov. 15. The homicide detective died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center the next day.

The case remains unsolved, though police say it is not a cold case. State and federal officials have offered a reward of $215,000 for information leading to an arrest, but no suspect has been identified.

Police officials initially said Suiter was shot once in the head at close range in a brief, violent struggle with an unknown suspect, but subsequently acknowledged that investigators are also reviewing other theories — including that Suiter may have committed suicide, an idea Suiter’s family has rejected.

The FBI has rejected calls for it to take over the investigation into the fatal shooting of a Baltimore homicide detective who was set to testify in a federal police corruption case, saying it has no evidence to suggest Det. Sean Suiter’s death was connected to the corruption probe.

At the time of the shooting, Suiter was on the notoriously violent Bennett Place investigating a triple killing there in December 2016. Another detective, Det. David Bomenka, was with him. Both Suiter and Bomenka had seen a man “acting suspiciously” in the area, police said, but the two detectives were not together at the time of the shooting.

Davis has said Bomenka was in the “immediate vicinity,” and can be seen on private surveillance tape seeking cover across the street when the gunfire rang out.

The case also has attracted attention for the fact that Suiter was scheduled to testify, the day after he was shot, before a federal grand jury probing alleged police corruption by other police officers, including former Sgt. Wayne Jenkins. Jenkins is one of the officers recently convicted as part of the sprawling federal corruption case against the police department’s Gun Trace Task Force.

Some in the city have suggested Suiter’s killing may have been a targeted act to prevent his testimony, though police have rejected that idea.

Davis asked the FBI to take over the investigation into Suiter’s death in December, but the FBI denied the request — leaving the case in the hands of Suiter’s former colleagues in the police department’s homicide unit.

The FBI said it has no evidence to suggest Suiter’s killing was “directly connected” to the corruption probe or any other federal case.

De Sousa has said he will be bringing in an outside set of eyes to review the case as well, but that arrangement had not been finalized as of Thursday.

Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.

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