By Nadine Matthews
Special to the AFRO
There are much easier ways to commit suicide (and make it look like a homicide) than shooting oneself in the head outdoors in a busy neighborhood, while on the job as a police officer. That’s why it is so hard for many Baltimoreans, and others attuned to the case of the late Detective Sean Suiter’s death, to believe that he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, as concluded by the Baltimore City Police Department.
“I think he was murdered,” Baltimore journalist D. Watkins told the AFRO in a recent interview.
Deeply ingrained distrust of the police after decades of fraught relations with the community adds to the problem, and is perhaps why the question of the nature of Baltimore police officer Sean Suiter’s death continues to be so intriguing and borderline vexing. “I’ve been dealing with for the bulk of my life, and most of my experiences have been bad. I only became ‘Mr. Watkins’, the taxpaying citizen, when I started working in television and putting books out and stuff like that. Then it kind of changed.”\
Even after hundreds of articles and an Independent Review Board reviewed Suiter’s death (that concluded his death was a suicide), there is now a HBO documentary, The Slow Hustle, examining the case. Actress (The Wire) and now sophomore documentary director Sonja Sohn (she directed 2017’s Baltimore Rising) puts Baltimore journalists, including Watkins, and Sean Suiter’s grieving widow Nicole, front and center in The Slow Hustle.
Many suspect that officers in the city’s police department conspired to kill Suiter or have him killed. Others seemed hardly fazed over his death, since he was scheduled to testify against his fellow members of the rampantly corrupt Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) the day after his death. On one hand it seems far-fetched; Suiter’s testimony wasn’t crucial to the case. On the other hand, some things just don’t add up.
If anyone can give a great description of a suspect, it’s a police officer. Yet, the best description that Suiter’s partner could muster for the individual they both observed, and whom Suiter went to approach because of “suspicious activity,” was that it was an “African-American male wearing a black jacket with a white strip.” Those are relatively weak powers of observation for a police officer, let alone one who is a detective. The paucity of detail in the description makes the inexplicable complete shutdown, supposedly to find a suspect, in the Harlem Park neighborhood in the wake of Suiter’s death seem like theater, tragically at the expense of its residents.
It’s this seeming carelessness that also makes Watkins and others suspect Suiter was murdered, and that either police were complicit or indifferent to finding out the truth. “I’m not going to say it was ignored, but the fact that the attention paid to the death of one of their own wasn’t a top priority for them was strange for me,” he stated. Watkins also feels that there was a racial component at play. “I definitely feel like if it was a White man, it would be totally a completely different story. But, he’s not a White man. He’s a Black man with a Black family.”
That carelessness sadly extends to the Independent Review Board that investigated Suiter’s death, as The Slow Hustle illustrates. There are numerous glaring inconsistencies in the report, leaving Baltimore’s public with little faith in its credibility.
Watkins also finds it disturbing that the Independent Review Board was remiss in speaking to Suiter’s family as they tried to make a determination about the cause of his death. “The Independent Review Board issues a whole report around whether or not Suiter committed suicide and didn’t talk to the family about his temperament?” Watkins asked, incredulously.
Indeed, there have been no reports that Suiter was suffering from depression or suicide ideations at anytime prior to his death. In addition, “He had partial immunity and he was still working for the Baltimore City Police Department. The rest of those cops were in jail,” Watkins explained.
Ultimately, Watkins looks to the finding of the medical examiner, which remains at odds with that of the IRB. “It’s still on the books as a homicide. That hasn’t changed.”
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