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Baltimore Det. Sean Suiter killing: Read full transcript of police commissioner's Friday news conference

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis on Friday provided updates on the death of Det. Sean Suiter and detailing his decision to hand over the investigation to the FBI.

The following is a transcript of Davis’ news conference.

POLICE COMMISSIONER KEVIN DAVIS: Good afternoon now. Thank you all for being here. This morning I sent the following letter that I will read to you, and a copy will be provided to you at the end of this press conference, to Christopher Wray, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and I sent it to him today.

Dear Director Wray,

I appreciate and commend the leadership of Special Agent in Charge Gordon Johnson of your Baltimore field office as it pertains specifically to the Nov. 15 murder of Det. Sean Suiter. Special Agent in Charge Gordon has been responsive, collaborative and has dedicated FBI resources to our investigation. In fact the FBI, ATF and DEA have all been embedded into the investigation from the very beginning. Acting United States Attorney for Maryland Steve Schenning has been equally responsive. Det. Suiter was scheduled to appear before a federal grand jury the day after he was killed pursuant to his knowledge of facts regarding a 2010 crime indicted just yesterday as part of the Broken Boundaries corruption investigation.

I have been told by the FBI and the United States Attorney’s office that Det. Suiter was never a target of the Broken Boundaries investigation, and that no information exists connecting his murder to the corruption case. The circumstances surrounding Det. Suiter’s killing are significantly complicated by the fact that he was to appear before a grand jury the following day. I am growing increasingly uncomfortable that my homicide detectives do not know all of the facts known to the FBI or the U.S. attorney’s office that could, if revealed to us, assist in furthering this murder investigation. I respectfully request the FBI to investigate the murder of Det. Sean Suiter. Please contact me to further discuss at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely, Kevin Davis, police commissioner

Any questions? ...

REPORTER: I just want to ask you something that’s been — I mean we’re all aware that there are elements of this investigation that, as you said, you used the word “complicated.” There is some physical evidence in this case that obviously would suggest the possibility of a self-inflicted wound. Can you comment on that angle and element of this investigation?

DAVIS: Well … I’ve said from the very, very beginning that we will follow the evidence wherever the evidence goes. As we continue to examine the evidence, we come up against probabilities and possibilities. We are not going to discount any possibility whatsoever.

I would add to that that we have physical evidence that suggests a struggle. The appearance of Det. Suiter’s clothing suggests a struggle. The radio transmission that is unintelligible — and the FBI made every effort to enhance it, and they can’t enhance it — it’s still, to me, a two-, three-second radio transmission made by Det. Suiter that is clearly made in distress. And at the conclusion of that very brief radio transmission you hear the sound of a gunshot.

So the possibility of what you spoke of ... is something that we’re not discounting. If the evidence leads us in that direction, we’ll go there. If the evidence leads us in the direction of a conspiracy, we’ll go there. If the evidence leads us in the direction of an unknown perpetrator who we have yet to identify, and that’s very frustrating to all of us, we’ll go there, too. So we’re not discounting anything, but I remain committed to following the evidence, and the involvement particularly of the FBI and the ATF from the very, very beginning when it comes to evidence handling an investigation is important to the integrity of the investigation, particularly for the community. So it’s not just the BPD involved in this case, it’s the BPD, ATF, FBI and DEA. And that’s been the case since day one.

Our homicide detectives are more than capable — more than capable — of handling this or any other murder investigation. Baltimore homicide detectives have been heralded for many, many years as the most talented in this country. Television shows have been made about Baltimore homicide detectives. This is, howeve,r about who murdered Sean Suiter. How did it happen? What happened? And this is also about having all the pieces of the puzzle available to homicide detectives so they can conduct a quality investigation. As I stated in my letter, I’m uncomfortable right now that we just don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle, and yesterday’s indictment revelation was an example of finding out information that I just didn’t know before, and that makes me uncomfortable. ...

REPORTER: To be clear, are you saying that, are you asking the FBI to take over your investigation, or to also investigate on a parallel track?

DAVIS: To take over the entire investigation.

REPORTER: Which would conclude your department’s investigation.

DAVIS: Well certainly if the FBI agreed to take over the investigation, I would — it would be my best guess that they would want us involved with that, but they would be … the lead on the murder investigation. This request is a request only. I don’t know how the FBI will respond to it. But it’s a request that I decided to make several days ago. Out of respect to the Suiter family, out of respect to the BPD family, I waited until after the funeral and after we buried Sean. And again, our homicide detectives here — more than capable of investigating this or any other case. But they’ve got to have all the pieces to the puzzle in front of them to make that case.

REPORTER: Do you feel that your homicide detectives have exhausted every lead that they’ve been tracking down these last two and a half weeks, that they’re just up against the wall?

DAVIS: I wouldn’t say we’re stalled or up against a wall. We’ve had several leads and tips that got us excited throughout this investigation, and they didn’t pan out. They didn’t go anywhere. So we’re not even remotely near a place where we would say we’re cold on this case but we just haven’t had that breaking piece of evidence or information made available to us that — all of us, you guys, us — would expect to happen faster in a case like that. And that’s a source of frustration.

REPORTER: So what do you feel the FBI knows that you’re not getting? You felt uncomfortable so why…

DAVIS: Well the FBI is still actively involved in the Broken Boundaries corruption investigation. So it started with seven indicted police officers back on March the first of this year. Another Baltimore police officer was indicted; a former Baltimore police officer who is now a Philadelphia police officer was then indicted; and then yesterday’s additional indictment of former Sgt. Wayne Jenkins and revelations of other officers who were present during that planting of evidence is information and names in those circumstances that are new to me. So finding out information on the fly, finding out investigative information at the same time you guys find out about it makes me uncomfortable that we don’t know all the information that we need to know to conduct a murder investigation. …

REPORTER: Can you say if there is any physical evidence — DNA, fingerprint, anything — to link or to suggest a second person? Any objective physical evidence?

DAVIS: So the objective physical evidence that we do have ... is signs of a struggle on Det. Suiter’s clothing. That’s physical evidence. Now physical evidence is also in the form of a radio transmission and a gunshot. Right now there is no DNA evidence or other forensic evidence, blood, et cetera that identifies the perpetrator. That’s not unusual that that type of evidence doesn’t exist but that’s where we are right now.

REPORTER: Well identifying the perpetrator or identifying a second person? I guess they’re one in the same in this case.

DAVIS: One in the same. … There is no, at the moment there is no evidence that speaks to that.

REPORTER: Yesterday you mentioned that you would over the next several hours or the day request from the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office whether or not they had any additional information they could provide to you that would enlighten you on the actions of Ryan Guinn, and there’s another sergeant mentioned that had been called to the scene in the indictment against Jenkins. Have you had that conversation and have you taken any steps against any additional officers?

DAVIS: … I have had that conversation with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office. They have identified the other officer I believe in yesterday’s indictment, “Officer No. 2.” That Officer No. 2 has been identified and he is still a Baltimore police officer and I suspended him this morning.

REPORTER: To be clear, that’s Ryan Guinn?

BALTIMORE POLICE SPOKESMAN T.J. SMITH: We can’t discuss personnel matters like that.

DAVIS: The sergeant that’s identified as only a sergeant in the indictment, he’s been identified as well and I can tell you that he retired back in June of 2012.

SMITH: And this is from the 2010 incident.

DAVIS: I guess the frustration for all of us is that we’re talking about a criminal act perpetrated by cops seven and a half, almost eight years ago now that we’re having to deal with on the eve of 2018. So those nefarious criminal acts that occurred back then are haunting us now and the necessity of uncovering criminal misconduct by police officers is often an ugly thing to go through. But I would rather go through it and identify people who don’t deserve to be on this police department than ignore it, turn a blind eye to it, excuse it or forgive it.

These are necessary things we have to go through and folks have told me over the last 24 hours, you know, “Wasn’t that back in 2010?” Yeah, it was back in 2010 but it speaks to an issue, a culture that we have to do our very, very best to ensure just does not exist anymore on this police department. And that’s sometimes easier said than done but this is the pain and the process we have to go through to get there. Two guys are in federal prison — I think one of them is out right now — but we had two people in federal prison for years on end on some trumped up charges, and that to me is just the ultimate violation of this profession.

REPORTER: Sir, you said with some certainty last week or the week before that Sean Suiter’s testimony that he was to give the next day after he was murdered was not related to his murder. Are you still convinced of that?

DAVIS: Well, I made that statement and I stand by it because that’s what I’ve been told by the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office. They told me then and tell me now as recently as today that they do not believe that Sean Suiter’s pending grand jury testimony had any connection to the Broken Boundaries corruption investigation. That’s what they told me. They know that I have repeated that to the community and they know that I’ll repeat it again.

I act on information that’s known to me and that’s communicated to me from our federal law enforcement partners, and that remains what has been communicated to me. And I understand that in the community that those two things existing at the same time and the fact that we haven’t caught someone — I understand the anxiety and folks saying, “Something just doesn’t jive here,” and I get that. So in the best interest in the integrity of the investigation I just believe it’s the right thing to do to ask the FBI to assume the lead on the investigation to bring that layer of credibility that we need when we talk about this painful case to the community.

REPORTER: What the feds tell you aside, knowing what you know, this investigation done by your own homicide detectives, do you still believe that’s the case?

DAVIS: I have no reason to believe based on the evidence that’s been presented to me that Det. Sean Suiter’s murder has anything to do with his pending grand jury testimony. That’s based on evidence available to me at the moment, so I couch that because during an investigation, I mean you all know how things develop and new information surfaces. So that’s what I know now and that’s what the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office believes as well, and that’s based on their communication to me.

REPORTER: So mechanically from this point forward, how will this work?

DAVIS: Right, so [I] met with the homicide detectives, the homicide unit this morning. … We keep the case and we keep marching forward with the investigation. We run out tips, we run out leads, we continue to ensure that every shred of evidence has been examined ad nauseam until that time that the FBI tells us that they want to take the lead on this investigation. I don’t know what the time frame would be to that answer, I would just be guessing. But I imagine we’ll get an answer from the FBI in short order.

REPORTER: I think this a yes or no question but you might find it otherwise: Is suicide a theory that your detectives are pursuing? Is that one of the theories that you are pursuing?

DAVIS: I appreciate you giving me an out to not answer that yes or no. The evidence suggests where we go. So there are probabilities and possibilities. Anytime we have an investigation like this we have to examine every possibility, and we go down that road. But based on our evidence and based on the investigation that pursues that particular possibility, there is no evidence that that was probable. And you can imagine … that certain things are looked at, certain people are spoken to, devices are examined, et cetera that usually give police an idea that someone was contemplating that. There is no evidence whatsoever right now that leads us to suspect that that is something that we have.

REPORTER: So just to be clear, what you’re saying is there’s no evidence that you know of at this moment that Det. Suiter was contemplating ending his life.

DAVIS: That’s correct. And that’s an examination of a lot of things available to us to see if in fact Det. Suiter was contemplating that. Now this is hard to talk about –

REPORTER: [inaudible] … that one theory that out of due diligence you were pursuing but it’s not your lead theory.

DAVIS: It’s not the lead theory, but we’re pursuing it. And having that conversation with the Suiter family before he was buried was something that I wanted to press pause on. And I have had that conversation with the Suiter family.

REPORTER: Can you answer one question about the scene, which is somewhat really relevant to this particular issue, which is the location of his gun when I think it was a patrol officer who first approached him — whoever was the first person to actually get close to him — where was the gun?

DAVIS: I can only say ... that it was at or adjacent to his body. And I don’t think there’s any necessary conclusion that can be drawn from the proximity of his gun to his body. I think the further examination of evidence and the continuance of this investigation, a number of possibilities exist regarding the meaning of the location to the gun to the body. And I don’t want to be premature and speculate.

REPORTER: When you said yesterday you wanted to have a conversation with his family, was that about handing the investigation over?

DAVIS: Yes, it was about handing the investigation over, the reasoning behind it. I don’t want to go too deep into my conversations with the family. I can just say that they understand it and I wanted them to hear it from me first before they otherwise heard about it.

REPORTER: And when you said that the department doesn’t have all the facts known to the FBI, do you feel that those facts were withheld or is that just the nature of different… [inaudible]

DAVIS: I think it’s the nature of federal investigations versus local crime investigations. I think federally — we’re all in the same profession but we’re all tasked with doing different things, and I think when a corruption investigation as broad as Broken Boundaries gets underway, the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office come into possession of a ton of information and they have to make a decision at what information they then give to the police department for us to actually act upon if that information doesn’t rise to the level of federal criminal charges on their end. So there’s a threshold. If it meets that federal criminal charges threshold, they’re going to criminally charge.

But there may be misconduct that doesn’t meet the criminal threshold that I otherwise want to know about it because it would meet an administrative threshold for me to consider whether or not police officers should still be here, absent any criminal charges. So that’s always the tug and pull of it all.

And we have great partners — Special Agent in Charge Gordon Johnson, great partner, and U.S. Attorney Steve Schenning. And we’re not necessarily at odds. I probably want more information, and they have their reasons for not giving me all the information. And I think the main point of their perspective is that if we indict or criminally charge a police officer, we’ll tell you about it. But my question is, “Well, what about the other officers who may have also been, let’s say, complicit or knowledgeable of a crime?” I have a selfish need to know that so we can otherwise look and see if they’re fit to be cops in Baltimore.

REPORTER: Or fit to be part the investigation into Det. Suiter’s killing.

DAVIS: Yes, sir. Absolutely.

REPORTER: So if you have suspended the “Officer No. 2,” has this department before reaching out to the FBI reached out to this sergeant who is still in Baltimore?

DAVIS: We have not ... and I just have to think about what our role would be to reach out to that former sergeant. And again, if there’s a role to contact that former sergeant as it relates to the ongoing homicide investigation, I think that’s an avenue to do that. But if it’s otherwise an inquiry to see if he complied with administrative policies and procedures then we wouldn’t do that because he’s no longer an employee. But again, I’d rather have more information and more names and then ultimately not need them than to have less information and less names and need them later. I really have anxiety when it comes to finding out things about criminal investigations on the same day that you guys do.

SMITH: All right guys, appreciate it. Any updates likely you’ll see reference to what we just discussed from the FBI.

REPORTER: I have one more question. Did you discuss the decision to request the FBI take over the investigation with Det. Suiter’s family, widow, and if so can you share whether they had a sentiment as to that or not?

DAVIS: So last night I visited with the Suiter family and I told them about my request to the FBI, and I made sure they understood why I was doing that. And their sentiment, they seemed to fully understand the necessity. The more eyes the better on a case like this.

I’ve been in discussions with Mayor [Catherine] Pugh over the last several days. The mayor knows that I’m making this request and have made this request so she’s been fully aware and supportive. And I know there have been a lot of community and political interests from other people about making this request, and I hear all that and I understand it and I get it.

But ultimately the timing of my request — after the funeral. We had to bury Sean Suiter. And then the other part of the timing that made me comfortable waiting until after we buried Sean Suiter is the absolute fact that the FBI, DEA and ATF are already involved. If they weren’t already involved, I would have thought about making the request differently and probably made it earlier. But they are involved, they remain involved so I had to, we had to get through the funeral and then I had to have a conversation with the Suiter family. Again they’re already embedded with our detectives, so I don’t think I lost anything with waiting until after the funeral.

REPORTER: Did you personally tell your homicide detectives this was happening?

DAVIS: So this is a very proud profession, a proud organization. Our homicide unit is particularly proud and I want them to feel a level of — I get it that we need to solve the murder of our own, and I fully understand that. And that’s a sentiment that exists on this police department and probably every police department in America: one of your own is killed, loses his life, her life, that we need to solve it. That’s what we need to do.

But there’s also enough information known to us that I think when people take a step back and look at it, we realize that there are moving pieces in this investigation that aren’t the norm, you know, a concurrent federal probe of a corruption case that involves names that are coming up in this case, i.e., Det. Suiter. So that’s unusual, and I think when things are unusual, talented homicide detectives, they get it and they understand it, and I just left my office with several homicide supervisors and commanders and I told them that if I have to personally speak to every homicide detective to explain the reasoning behind this request then I’m more than happy to do that, but I do also understand any frustrations that are happening as well.

REPORTER: [inaudible] … rule Det. Suiter’s death a homicide?

DAVIS: As of yesterday, no. I don’t know if that’s changed today.

REPORTER: There is no homicide? So there’s no ruling at all?

DAVIS: I don’t know that we have the [autopsy] report. I’ve been told that the ruling is homicide and manner, gunshot wound, but I don’t have a copy of the report.

REPORTER: And I just want to make sure we’re being crystal clear about what you’re saying about the FBI. Because what I hear you say is you think your guys don’t have the information they need, and the FBI might know something that you don’t know, they don’t know. On the other hand, you’re talking about the underlying and overshadowing corruption case that obviously has a tie to this. So I just want to be — what is the reason you’re doing this, you’re asking the FBI to take this over?

DAVIS: Because our homicide detectives — some of the best in the business, some of the best I’ve ever seen — can’t do their jobs effectively if there’s a perception or a reality that we don’t possess all the information that we need to conduct the investigation. And then there’s also a legitimacy aspect to my decision to request the FBI. The community needs to know that I am willing and this police department is willing to invite any extra sets of eyes or resources, whether it’s investigative or prosecutorial, to look at this incident to try to figure it out. And my willingness to do that is something that I think is important for the community to know. It’s not an easy decision and it’s been, I think I’ve tried to make it as thoughtfully as I could, but I’m standing by it and we’ll see where we go from here.

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