By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
The ongoing speculation over the circumstances surrounding the death of Baltimore homicide detective Sean Suiter have continued to stir doubt and mistrust across many communities in the city.
The veteran cop was shot in the head with his own gun in November. But, since then a series of miscues have only stoked concerns the department has been less than forthcoming about the case. From the start, the lockdown of the Harlem Park neighborhood where Suiter was murdered and the delayed release of the fact he was scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury in a case involving the now notorious Gun Trace Task Force just a day before he was gunned down, only widened the chasm between many mostly Black, mostly poor communities and police.
“The BPD is building an absolute abysmal record for shoddy police work while touting themselves as among the best and especially in homicide investigations,” Christopher Ervin a community activist told The AFRO.
However, an overlooked aspect of the early stage of the investigation that has all but disappeared from the discussion, may offer clues as to what happened to the 18-year veteran, husband and father of five.
Shortly after Suiter was shot, police released a description of a suspect; a lone Black man wearing a black jacket with a white stripe. It was a nebulous, if not familiar depiction that could be applied to thousands of men across the city.
Since then little has been said about the man who allegedly prompted former Police Commissioner Kevin Davis to lockdown the Harlem Park neighborhood for nearly a week. And it is a silence which has stirred concerns among experienced investigators that the release of such a critical piece of evidence without explanation or follow-through, implies something more sinister about Suiter’s death.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if someone in the department made it up just to cover their asses for locking down the neighborhood,” said former BPD (Baltimore Police Department) commander and state police Lt. Neil Franklin.
“Did Suiter give a description over the radio? Did the BPD ever make his radio transmission public?’” Franklin asked.
Indeed, when asked recently about the origin of the information that indicated a Black suspect had shot Suiter, current Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said he too did not know.
“I really don’t know,” De Sousa said recently. “And I can tell you, the day of the incident…I got there relatively quickly, and I don’t exactly (know) where it came from.”
“I couldn’t tell you specifically who told me that particular day,” he added.
Recently the department formed a so-called independent review board to examine the case. The board, comprised of retired homicide detectives and several policing experts is expected to issue a comprehensive report on both the investigation and the handling of the homicide probe internally.
Franklin argues the fact that the most public piece of evidence thus far to date has not been fully explained, is something the department needs to address directly.
“The only reason I can think of for the police avoiding the question is embarrassment,” he said. “Embarrassment could be related to the source, or lack of a credible source.”
Evoking the specter of a lone Black assailant in the shooting of a police officer that later turned out to be of questionable veracity has a fraught history within the department.
In 2010, Baltimore Police detective Anthony Fata ignited a citywide manhunt when he claimed a Black man shot him in the leg inside a downtown parking garage. Investigators later concluded there was little evidence of the assailant, and in 2012 Fata was convicted of filing fraudulent workers compensation claims, perjury and misconduct in office.
Which is why Ervin says the department needs to come clean about all the evidence in the Suiter case, not only to re-establish trust with the community, but to instill confidence the investigation is above board.
“(The) Source of info of this nature should not be hard at all to pin down.” Ervin said. “It would have had to come from either Suiter or his partner.”