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  December 9, 2017

Mystery Surrounding Detective's Death Heightens Mistrust of Police

As the BPD asks the FBI to take over Detective Sean Suiter's murder investigation, activists say Suiter's planned testimony in a major corruption case only bolsters the argument for community control of police
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TAYA GRAHAM: It's a vacant lot surrounded by abandoned homes, and yet this desolate patch of dirt symbolizes both the conflicts and secrets that continue to roil Baltimore. It's here where Detective Sean Suiter was found shot in the head by his own gun three weeks ago. At first, police blamed the community.

COMMISSIONER KEVIN DAVIS: I do understand the temporary inconvenience for residents. I've personally interacted with residents in Harlem Park myself and to a person, each and every one of them understands why we're out there and why we're doing what we need to do. They don't want a killer roaming around their community.

TAYA GRAHAM: Since then, doubts. And now, a call for the FBI to intervene.

MAYOR CATHERINE PUGH: This individual was preparing to testify before the grand jury the following day, and so the FBI is already in this case. In fact, the FBI has been engaged for some time, but we really wanted them to take a close look at this particular killing or shooting, whatever took place.

TAYA GRAHAM: The frustration in West Baltimore remains.

LEE PATTERSON: It's like the police don't have any respect for us period, you know? It's like they treat us like we're second-class citizens, we're animals, you know? The folks in this community just don't get a fair shake.

TAYA GRAHAM: At a special meeting of the City's Civilian Review Board last Thursday, residents expressed anger over the police presence that locked down the area for a week.

SPEAKER: We got to go after the people who gave the orders because the police, the police officers on the front line just don't decide to appoint an officer and be assigned to one. They don't make those decisions. This came from the police commissioner, and that's where we have to start.

TAYA GRAHAM: Today, activists knocked on doors where they found a deeper sense of distrust and suspicions.

STEPHEN JANIS: You were saying before that you don't believe Baltimore Police can be reformed. What did you mean by that?

SPEAKER: Actually, we definitely don't feel they can be reformed. I think the Sergeant Sean Suiter case is the straw that broke the camel's back. I mean, it's sort of like proof of what we've been saying for years, and years, and years at the police department of Baltimore City is riddled with corruption. The biggest problem is abuse on the street and police murders that don't get investigated.

TAYA GRAHAM: That's because Suiter was shot the day before he was set to testify in front of a grand jury in a major police corruption case. Suiter, a homicide detective, was a witness in a 2010 drug case involving Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, one of now nine officers indicted for drug dealing, stealing cash from residents and racketeering. Suiter was involved in the alleged drug bust, which led to a high-speed chase and an accident that killed the father of a Baltimore police officer. A case that federal prosecutors say it was built upon planted drugs placed in the defendant's car after the accident. It's a critical link between the actions of the former members of the drug trace taskforce caught on wiretaps in 2016 and the past. A case that could have brought implications for the department, suggesting corruption is both widespread and endemic, but more importantly, say the activists, it's case in point for why civilian control of police is not only important, but necessary.

SPEAKER: We feel like it's come to a head. They have to be disbanded and the community has to take community control of the police. That is one thing that we feel strongly about.

TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.


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