Despite Baltimore Police Department shake-ups, panel reviewing Det. Suiter's death moves forward

An independent panel continues to review the investigation of Baltimore Police Det. Sean Suiter’s death, despite a change in leadership at the police department, officials said Tuesday.

A spokesman for the police department and members of the Independent Review Board said at its second meeting Tuesday that the suspension, and later resignation, of Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa, hadn’t halted the panel’s progress.

De Sousa’s resignation was announced shortly after the meeting began Tuesday; he is facing three misdemeanor counts of failing to file federal income tax returns. Deputy Commissioner Gary Tuggle, a former senior Drug Enforcement Administration official hired by De Sousa in March to oversee strategic and support services, was named acting commissioner by Mayor Catherine Pugh last week, and a national search has been launched to find a permanent replacement.

“The mission hasn’t changed,” said Baltimore Police spokesman T.J. Smith. “Obviously we are having a little bit of change going on in the agency, and acting Commissioner Tuggle couldn’t be here today.”

Tuggle, Smith said, was in Washington, where Suiter’s name is being to added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

“It’s important to know he is full behind the IRB. He still supports the mission,” Smith said.

The board is expected to review the Suiter shooting itself and the police department’s investigation of it — including the crime scene investigation, security around the Harlem Park neighborhood during the investigation, and police interactions with community members there.

Suiter, a homicide detective, was shot once in the head with his own service weapon in a vacant lot in Harlem Park in West Baltimore on Nov. 15. Some in the police department believe he was killed, others believe he committed suicide. The investigation is ongoing.

Suiter was shot the day before he was to give testimony before a federal grand jury investigating Baltimore’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force. Suiter was not a target of that investigation, police have said.

One of the board’s co-chairs, James “Chips” Stewart, said the panel has received little information related to the federal investigation into the unit.

“We only have the most tangential information to that … it’s still relatively opaque,” Steward said during the brief portion of the meeting that was open to the public.

The meetings have been largely held behind closed doors because panel members said Suiter death investigation remains an “open and active criminal investigation.”

Before the session was closed, Stewart outlined the group’s progress, saying they’ve downloaded hundreds of files from investigators, the medical examiner and the forensic unit, including photos, videos and diagrams. At the group’s last meeting in April, they’ve visited where Suiter was shot, at 910 Bennett Place. They’ve scheduled interviews with commanders, investigators, and community coordinators, he said.

On Tuesday, the panel would hear from officers with the Special Investigative Review unit, which will include information on police department policies and training, and how the department “conformed” to those policies, procedures and training.

When asked about whether the panel has an opinion the the quality of the investigation so far, Stewart responded, “the information we’e gotten was a very good overview. We felt it was very comprehensive.”

The review is expected to take 90 to 180 days, and the findings are expected to be made public.

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