By Baynard Woods
Detective Sean Suiter was murdered the day before he was scheduled to testify before a Federal Grand Jury, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis announced in at a 5 p.m. press conference Wednesday, the day before a holiday.
“The very next day after Det. Suiter was murdered, he was scheduled to appear before a federal grand jury,” Davis said. “Det. Suiter was going to offer federal grand jury testimony about an incident that occurred several years ago that included officers who are now federally indicted back in March, the GTTF [Gun Trace Task Force] squad and included officers who were on the scene in that particular incident.”
Either members of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force have been indicted on federal racketeering charges. Eric Troy Snell, a Philadelphia police officer, was recently indicted for allegedly selling cocaine and heroin stolen from dealers by members of the GTTF. Prosecutors claimed he threatened the children of indicted Baltimore Detective Jemell Rayam.
“The acting United State’s Attorney and the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore field office have told me in no uncertain terms that Detective Suiter was not the target of any ongoing investigation,” Davis said.
According to Maryland court records, Suiter worked with Wayne Jenkins and Maurice Ward, two of the indicted detectives. Sources close to the department told the Real News that Suiter asked to be transferred to work as a Western District Detective in order to get away from these officers.
Davis nevertheless insisted that there was no known connection between the murder and the impending testimony.
“The BPD and the FBI do not posses any information on this incident and it appears to be nothing more than a spontaneous observation of a man behaving suspiciously in a spontaneous decision to investigate his conduct is part of any conspiracy,” Davis said, addressing rumors circulating on the streets, in the media, and among officers, about Suiter’s partner. “The evidence refutes the notion that Detective Suiter’s partner was anything other than just that, his partner.”
The partner, who has not been named, has “been talking to homicide detectives non-stop since this incident,” Davis said. “Upon the sound of gunfire Detective Suiter’s partner sought cover across the street and he immediately called 911.”
There is “evidence of a struggle between Det. Suiter and his killer,” according to Davis, who cited a radio transmission and the sound of apparent gunfire and evidence of a struggle visible on Det. Suiter’s clothing.”
Davis also said that Suiter was shot with his own weapon, confirming a story that has been reported on for days.
“It certainly makes for a great theory,” Davis said of the idea that the impending testimony motivated the murder. “It wasn’t as if anyone lured him into that location. None of those things exist. So I understand the wild possibility that go through people’s minds when we all want answers.”
During the investigation, police locked down parts of the Harlem Park neighborhood, insisting that people show identification to prove they live there in order to cross police lines.
“They’re not letting people go in, I got told around 5:15, I had my I.D. and everything ready,” a resident told the Baltimore Beat. “I just want to go inside, shut the door, and not come back out.”
Many have seen this as an unconstitutional overreach.
“The ACLU is concerned about the police cordon that is being imposed on the Harlem Park neighborhood, following an interaction that resulted in the tragic death of a Baltimore homicide detective,” David Rocah of Maryland ACLU said in a statement. “The residents of Baltimore, and, in particular, the residents of the affected community, deserve a clear explanation from the City as to why this unprecedented action has been taken, what rules are being enforced, and why it is lawful. The need to secure a crime scene from contamination to preserve evidence does not, on its face, explain the wide area to which access has been restricted for days after the incident.”
Davis, however, placed the exigency of finding Suiter’s killer above any constitutional concerns.
“I would much rather endure some predictive criticism from the ACLU and others about that decision, than endure a conversation with Detective Suiter’s wife about why we didn’t do everything we possibly could do to recover evidence and identify the person who murdered her husband,” Davis said earlier in the week.
Councilman John Bullock, who represents District 9, which includes Harlem Park, told the Beat earlier today that he has been in “limited communication” with Baltimore Police over the course of the investigation and that he has received a few complaints from his constituents about the police lockdown—some of them spotted officers around the area with military-style weapons. He’d also heard of people being patted down and searched.
“I’m open to meeting with members of the community,” Bullock said, when the Beat asked about whether he intended to take steps to address the issue.
He said that the length of time that the investigation took exacerbated the situation and that “there could have been better communication throughout the process.”
Davis would not rule out that the department will investigate other officers for the killing, even though he says there is no evidence of it at this time.
“There’s nothing we won’t consider. There’s no path we won’t go down if the evidence takes us down that path,” Davis said.
The press conference did nothing to quell rumors among citizens and police officers, who have been speculating about the case. More than an hour after the press conference, a statement announcing that the administrative charges against White had been dropped was emailed out.
“Commissioner Kevin Davis has dismissed the scheduled administrative hearing board for Sergeant Alicia White. She will face no further administrative actions,” the statement reads. “We now have the experience of two administrative trials. A trial is the best test of evidence. Two separate boards have examined the evidence and have reached the same conclusion. The evidence and allegations against Sergeant White are the same.”
Additional reporting by Lisa Snowden-McCray and Brandon Soderberg.