As doubt looms over the investigation into the shooting death of Baltimore Homicide Det. Sean Suiter in a vacant West Baltimore lot nearly three weeks ago, two facts are becoming clear.
First, both Mayor Catherine Pugh and the Police Commissioner Kevin Davis have little faith their own agency can solve the case. This lack of confidence was made clear when they decided to ask the FBI to step in last week.
And second, the mounting evidence in the case in which Suiter was supposed to testify the day after he was gunned down – a 2010 car chase that lead to a fatal accident and alleged planting of drugs by police – is a sign the scandalous behavior of members of the now defunct Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) has permeated much of the department.
Davis announced he wanted the FBI to take over the Suiter investigation at a press conference Dec. 1, after he expressed concerns that his investigators were not privy to information linking Suiter’s death to the burgeoning scandal involving at least eight officers of the GTTF who are charged with drug dealing, robbery and overtime fraud.
“The circumstances surrounding Det. Suiter’s killing are significantly complicated by the fact that he was to appear before a grand jury the following day. I am growing increasingly uncomfortable that my homicide detectives do not know all of the facts known to the FBI or the U.S. attorney’s office that could, if revealed to us, assist in furthering this murder investigation,” Davis wrote in letter to the acting US Attorney.
“I respectfully request the FBI to investigate the murder of Det. Sean Suiter.”
There have been few clues in the shooting of Suiter on Nov. 15, which caused his death the next day. And Davis’ initial public confidence that the department would solve the case has become more subdued. In fact, Davis said investigators have not ruled out the possibility that Suiter took his own life.
“I’ve said from the very, very beginning that we will follow the evidence wherever the evidence goes. As we continue to examine the evidence, we come up against probabilities and possibilities. We are not going to discount any possibility whatsoever,” Davis said.
Still, Davis has yet to offer a plausible theory for how someone could take a gun from an experienced police veteran, shoot him at close range, then escape while leaving no forensic evidence or witnesses. Instead, Davis has all but ruled out any scenarios that involves Suiters’ pending grand jury testimony.
But even more troubling for the department, are the most recent charges against Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, one of the eight officers from the GTTF.
Prosecutors allege he planted drugs to cover-up an illegal car chase that lead to the death of the father of a Baltimore police officer. The case, which Suiter was slated to testify about, dates back to 2010. A fact that significantly expands the timeline for Jenkins’ alleged habit of planting drugs and falsifying evidence, suggesting it might had been going on for year before authorities caught him on wiretaps in 2016.
“What’s really concerning is that an officer was on the street with an ounce of heroin to plant on an individual. That’s one thing,” community activist Christopher Ervin told the AFRO. “The other thing is, if he planted the heroin, then why was the guy running from him? What is it about this officer that prompted the guy to run?
Umar Burley was arrested in 2010 by Jenkins (who was then a detective) and Suiter. According to court records Suiter discovered drugs that were in Burley’s vehicle. The arrest was made after a car chase that ended in the death of an 87- year old man. Burley has argued the drugs found in his vehicle were planted by Jenkins.
And the fallout from the latest developments is not limited to how widespread corruption is in the department.
Since the indictments against the GTTF were announced earlier this year and a series of body camera videos emerged showing an officer allegedly planting drugs, city prosecutors have been forced to review and drop hundreds of cases.
Now with a new indictment stretching back nearly seven years, there are concerns that more cases could be tainted, a potential blow to the department already reeling from a record year of violence and strained relations with the community.
“The review of these cases is a fluid process,” Melba Sanders spokesperson for Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby told the AFRO.
“We are continuing to asses.”
But doubts extend beyond past cases. Retired Homicide Lt. Stephen Tabeling says handing a high-profile murder case to the FBI only heightens his concerns about the ability of the department to function.
“I don’t think in my whole career do I recall the city turning over a homicide case to the FBI,” Tabeling said.
“And who says the FBI has the expertise for a local murder investigation?”’