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Baltimore settles lawsuit filed by Harlem Park residents over police lockdown after Det. Suiter’s shooting death

Baltimore Police stand inside a cordoned-off area at Edmondson Avenue and Schroeder Street in the Harlem Park neighborhood of West Baltimore the day after Baltimore Police Det. Sean Suiter was shot in the head in 2017. The city on Monday settled a lawsuit brought by Harlem Park residents and the ACLU over the police actions in the days following the shooting.
Baltimore Police stand inside a cordoned-off area at Edmondson Avenue and Schroeder Street in the Harlem Park neighborhood of West Baltimore the day after Baltimore Police Det. Sean Suiter was shot in the head in 2017. The city on Monday settled a lawsuit brought by Harlem Park residents and the ACLU over the police actions in the days following the shooting. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

The ACLU of Maryland and city officials have reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed over the lockdown of Harlem Park neighborhood following the 2017 shooting death of Det. Sean Suiter, according to a new court filing.

Details were not disclosed, but the settlement includes “monetary and non-monetary terms,” the latter of which contains provisions that the parties are asking the court to enforce.

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The disclosure came as the city faced a Monday deadline to respond to the plaintiffs’ claims. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of four Harlem Park residents and sought compensation from the city and “a prohibition against BPD ever establishing a similar neighborhood lockdown again,” as well as “a court order requiring the BPD to destroy all of the personal information illegally obtained from residents. "

Suiter was fatally shot in the 900 block of Bennett Place in November 2017, while he and a partner were out working cases. In a frantic search for a gunman, police cordoned off several blocks of the neighborhood for six days, a move that would be criticized by civil rights groups and a federal team overseeing court-ordered reforms in the department.

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Officers stationed around the crime scene’s perimeter stopped residents, asked them for identification, and ran their names through law enforcement databases. Body worn camera footage from officers stationed in the neighborhood showed them stopping everyone entering the neighborhood. Residents had to show identification just to get home.

“What happened in Harlem Park was a dramatic and crystal clear example of the many ways in which policing in Baltimore is not the same in black and white communities,” senior ACLU staff attorney David Rocah said in 2019 when the lawsuit was filed. “It is not enough for the city to say long after the fact ... ‘oops we messed up, our bad.’”

Police never made any arrests in Suiter’s death, despite a $215,000 reward. Suiter was shot the day before he was to appear in front of a grand jury investigating the Gun Trace Task Force corruption scandal, and had been informed by the FBI that he had been accused of misconduct.

In the years since, an Independent Review Board and Maryland State Police review of the police department’s investigation led department leaders to believe his death was a suicide. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison announced the investigation was closed, then backed away from the statement after prosecutors said they were still pursuing evidence against a possible suspect.

His family and attorney have strongly pushed back on the suicide theory; his death remains classified as a homicide.

The department’s response in Harlem Park was heavily criticized by the monitoring team that is overseeing the Baltimore Police consent decree. The monitor’s report said the department maintained the lockdown well past any time in which an armed and dangerous suspect still would pose a threat. It also concluded that officers conducted warrant checks without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, and frisked nine people unlawfully.

“BPD’s response to the Suiter shooting demonstrates the considerable long-term challenge it faces to ensure that its officers abide by the Constitution and the Consent Decree in their interactions with community members,” the monitoring team wrote in a report in June 2018.

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