Less than a month before Baltimore Police Det. Sean Suiter was fatally shot in the head, FBI agents confronted him with allegations that he had planted drugs at the scene of a police chase and fatal crash seven years earlier, according to an FBI document obtained by The Baltimore Sun.
The document says that during the Oct. 24, 2017, meeting, Suiter denied knowledge of drugs being planted at all and was “frustrated and upset” that he had been accused of being involved. He asked for an attorney before speaking further.
The memo summarizing the interview, called a “302 report,” was provided to The Sun this week in response to a series of Freedom of Information Act requests. It shows, for the first time, that Suiter was informed that there were allegations against him in the case against fellow officers.
Suiter was fatally shot in West Baltimore while on duty, one day before he was set to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the drug-planting incident, which occurred in 2010. Suiter had been granted limited immunity by prosecutors to discuss the case.
In the eventual indictment, federal prosecutors relied on the account of another officer at the scene that described Suiter as unwittingly picking up the planted drugs. Suiter’s attorney, Jeremy Eldridge, maintains that the officer had no culpability in the incident and was not concerned about being implicated.
But he also said he never was told — from his client or from investigators — that there were allegations that Suiter was involved.
“The prosecutor said from Day One that Sean was not a suspect,” Eldridge said Thursday. “This information confirms what we have known from the beginning, which is that Sean has always maintained his innocence.”
Suiter’s death was ruled a homicide by the State Medical Examiner’s Office and remains classified that way. An outside panel tapped by the department to review the case concluded that he likely killed himself and staged it to look like a homicide.
The panel’s 2018 report noted that the FBI had attempted to interview Suiter and that he had asked if he might lose his job. The panel speculated about whether Suiter might have felt pressure about the investigation.
The drug-planting case came to light in the fallout of the Gun Trace Task Force corruption scandal. GTTF Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, in addition to pleading guilty to robberies and drug dealing, admitted to authoring a false report about the 2010 incident, which preceded the GTTF. He said that he knew drugs were planted but was adamant at his sentencing that he was not the one who did it.
“I wish I had come clean when I found out the drugs were planted,” Jenkins said at the hearing.
Agents told Suiter in the October 2017 meeting that they had been told multiple versions of the incident, one that involved Suiter planting the drugs. One other version, from a fellow squad member at the time named Ryan Guinn, was that while Suiter recovered drugs from the vehicle, he did not know they had been planted.
An FBI special agent “advised Suiter that there was [also] information that at some point Suiter had found out about the drugs being planted.” The agent’s name is redacted from the report.
The agent “also explained to Suiter that the facts surrounding this incident were going to become public no matter what because there were going to be actions in court involving the convictions for the men who were charged with the drugs.”
Two men, Umar Burley and Brent Mathews, were convicted at the time and sentenced to federal prison for the drugs planted in their vehicle. The two men said they were startled by police who swooped in on them, and fled in their vehicle, which collided with an elderly couple, killing one person. Burley was also convicted of manslaughter.
Federal and state prosecutors vacated those convictions in the wake of the Gun Trace Task Force revelations. Burley and Mathews won an $8 million civil settlement from the city that was finalized last fall.
Suiter was out with another homicide detective when, according to his partner, David Bomenka, Suiter said he thought he saw someone in an alley and stopped to investigate. When the partner was out of view, Suiter rushed into a vacant lot and was shot. Police believe he was shot with his own weapon.
Police offered a six-figure reward for tips and locked down the Harlem Park neighborhood for days after the shooting. The monitoring team for the U.S. Justice Department consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department said the lockdown, which involved stops and searches of residents, raised “clear constitutional concerns.” The ACLU of Maryland filed a lawsuit on behalf of residents, which is pending in U.S. District Court.
Among the tips received by investigators was an account from a federal informant who said he was nearby when the shooting happened, and said that he was told that Suiter was shot by someone after he came upon their drug stash.
But some investigators said there was a lack of evidence of a shooter, and came to believe his death was likely a suicide staged to look like a murder. That prompted the outside review, by a panel consisting of two retired homicide detectives, a former federal prosecutor, a former New Jersey State Police superintendent and a retired chief of detectives from a New York county district attorney’s office. They said one motivation for a staged suicide was to preserve benefits for his family. In October, the city agreed to a $900,000 settlement on benefits for his family.
During the Gun Trace Task Force trial, it was revealed that at least one officer who cooperated with the government, Det. Momodu Gondo, alleged he had stolen money with Suiter and other officers in the past. The panel review noted Suiter had deleted messages from Gondo and another convicted officer from his phone.
Police moved to close the investigation into Suiter’s death following the panel’s report and a review of the investigation by the Maryland State Police, but Suiter’s family has maintained that he did not take his own life and have called the case a cover-up. The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office also said last year that it was still following up on information. There have been no recent updates about the status of the case.