By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO

There is a term homicide detectives use to designate an investigation top priority:  Red Ball.  Its origin is unknown, but among cops who have worked on the homicide floor no other case qualifies as Red Ball more than the murder of cop, no less a detective who worked among them.

Which is why the drama engulfing a call for an outside agency to investigate the death of Det. Sean Suiter has troubled former detectives who know how investigations work.  Particularly since the FBI recently turned down the request to take over the case, leaving the homicide floor in limbo.

Last month, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis (at podium, with BPD spokesman T. J. Smith at left) asked for the FBI to lead the investigation into the murder of Baltimore Homicide Det. Sean Suiter. The FBI refused to take the case, leaving many to question what’s next in the Suiter murder investigation.

“Everyone is pretty upset with Police Commissioner Davis,” a person familiar with the investigation who did not wish to be identified told the AFRO.

Suiter was found shot in the head with his own gun in a West Baltimore alley in November.   Police Commissioner Kevin Davis immediately locked down the Harlem Park neighborhood where the shooting occurred touting the theory that a lone Black man wearing a striped jacket was responsible for Suiter’s death.

It’s a hypothesis Davis has clung to even after it was revealed Suiter was set to testify before a federal grand jury in a widening corruption case involving former members of the Gun Trace Task Force the day after he died.

“What we have left before us is a murder committed by a yet to be identified perpetrator,” Davis reiterated at press conference last week.

But it is Davis’ public endorsement of a single theory of the case that has added to the turmoil surrounding the investigation.  Particularly when Davis would not rule out seeking help elsewhere after the FBI turned him down.

“In terms of our willingness to bring in extra eyes and ears…. I am not reluctant at all to identify some nationally known subject matter experts on homicide…I am open to that,” said Davis.

Part of the problem with Davis’ strategy, which has been endorsed by the mayor and city council members, is the often-contradictory statements regarding just why another agency is needed.

On one hand, Davis, along with Mayor Catherine Pugh, continue to insist that Baltimore homicide detectives are more than qualified to handle the case.  But both also continue to deny that the burgeoning corruption scandal that has led to charges of robbery, extortion and stealing overtime against at least eight cops that Suiter was set to testify against, also had anything to do with his death, leaving questions about why the case cannot be handled internally unanswered.

When asked to explain these contradictions at a press conference last month, Pugh was blunt.

“It makes sense to me,” she said, without elaborating.

Former Baltimore police commander Neil Franklin said part of the problem is that by publicly fixating on the least likely scenario – an assailant in the neighborhood – the commissioner has boxed himself into a corner

“It is another way for him to say, we don’t have a single lead in this case, even though we went and locked down your neighborhood for days,” Franklin said.  “And since you’re already dealing with the lack of public confidence, they think, ‘Let’s punt this to the FBI.’”

Franklin said the commissioner’s admission that there is no direct evidence of a suspect weeks after the shooting occurred is troubling.

“It’s daylight, someone hears a gunshot, someone’s going to know something, someone is going to see someone running. I guarantee someone saw something if indeed it was a person from the neighborhood.”

An outspoken critic of the war on drugs and member of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a group of law enforcement professionals who are leading the effort to curtail it, Franklin believes that theories tying Suiter’s killing to the grand jury investigation warrant equal consideration.

“Could Suiter have additional information about something else? Could he be concerned about something we don’t know about?” Franklin said.

Franklin said a theory Davis has dismissed, that Suiter committed suicide, can also not be ruled out.  Particular since suicide among police officers is an ongoing problem, an issue he dealt with personally during his tenure with the Maryland State Police when he contemplated ending his own life.

“If it comes to suicide we don’t know the true story of what’s going on in someone else’s mind,” he said.

“Personally, I can concede, when I was dealing with when on the job I always thought of a number of ways of I could take my life to make it look like it was on duty.”

As to where the investigation is headed, police spokesman T.J Smith said nothing has changed since the commissioner pledged to seek outside help last week.  A move Franklin believes is the correct course for now.

“I would give this to the Maryland State Police, I’m saying this because with the questions still floating around, it would be better, perception wise, to let state police take the lead with the assistance from Baltimore city homicide.”