The public squabble over whether a city and state police investigations is open regarding the mysterious death of Det. Sean Suiter tells us nothing new about how the officer died. But it reveals volumes about the dysfunctional relationship between the Baltimore Police Department and the city prosecutor’s office — made worse by the police union, which appears largely incapable of supporting the BPD commissioner.
After the latest review of circumstances surrounding Suiter’s death pointed to suicide, as an earlier panel also found, Commissioner Michael Harrison released a statement closing the case Wednesday. Less than 24 hours later, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby contradicted him, declaring it: “an open and pending matter.”
It was the same kind of light-on-details information bomb she dropped at a policing forum last month, telling those in attendance that her office had identified “hundreds” of city police officers whose credibility is suspect. She repeatedly declined to answer questions about that claim then — and this one now, telling reporters Thursday she “cannot ethically comment” further.
She appears to have no ethical quandary, however, over causing public panic through vague allegations against police, her supposed partners in justice. If, despite all the reform efforts underway and attention currently focused on the BPD, officers still working today are widely untrustworthy, Ms. Mosby, we implore you: Please, please make that case — and make it plain.
A police spokesman responded to the statement that the Suiter case was open by explaining that “there are a small number of tasks to complete.” If what’s left is really minimal, and we’re not looking at the possibility of significant contradiction to earlier conclusions, why wouldn’t the state’s attorney just say so?
Same goes for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, whose president, Sgt. Mike Mancuso, also felt it necessary to weigh in. “The Suiter case is very much an open and active case being investigated by BPD Homicide,” he said in a statement to The Sun.
Are they all talking about the same investigation? Something separate? Who knows?
It’s enough to make your head spin. Such back and forth between cooperating agencies is unprofessional and unproductive by any measure, but in this particularly sensitive case, it borders on malpractice — fueling conspiracy theories and further frustrating Suiter’s family members, who surely want to protect his reputation and the benefits he leaves behind.
Suiter was found shot in the head by his service weapon on Nov. 16, 2017, in a vacant lot in West Baltimore — a day before, we all eventually found out, he was scheduled to testify in front of a federal grand jury investigating the police department’s corrupt Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force.
The state Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Suiter’s death a homicide, and police, under an earlier commissioner, shut down the area in complete disregard for the Constitution while hunting for clues. Meanwhile, rumors grew that Suiter might have been killed to prevent him from —or punish him for — testifying.
Then, two separate investigations found suicide to be the most likely cause of death, which has satisfied no one, particularly not the conspiracy theorists. The first finding was made by an independent panel in August 2018, and the second, by the city and state police review, which was ordered as a check and balance to the first inquiry.
If the Medical Examiner’s Office changes its ruling to suicide, it would jeopardize workers’ compensation and pension payouts to Suiter’s family, who adamantly reject the notion of suicide.
Our hearts go out to them, as, we’re sure, do the hearts of the police department, police union and prosecutor’s office. We would even understand if their public contradictions stem from some effort to protect the family.
But if that’s the case, it’s not working. The family’s lawyer now says members are launching their own investigation. “We’re going to be asking for every document, every interview, every recording,” attorney Jeremy Eldridge said. “And they better damn well give it to us because if you’re going to hide behind the investigation being closed, you better turn over the goods.”
We don’t know if there’s any hiding going on, but we do agree that the commissioner should “turn over the goods” — as in make the latest investigation report public.
The state’s attorney also should lay out what she knows and end the innuendo, which feels more political than prosecutorial. Ms. Mosby made a national name for herself in 2015 as the prosecutor who wasn’t afraid to take on police after the death of Freddie Gray, and we’re thrilled she’s willing to hold all wrongdoers accountable for their actions. But ambiguous insinuations made against police don’t do anyone any good; instead, they do grave harm to the goals of improving cooperation among city residents and law enforcement, and making Baltimore a safer city for everyone.