Fresh eyes on Suiter Our view:

The in­tense pol­i­tics around the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Sean Suiter’s death may be keep­ing us from find­ing the truth; De Sousa is right to seek out­side per­spec­tives

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS -

We agree with Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Darryl De Sousa’s de­ci­sion to im­panel an out­side group of in­ves­ti­ga­tors to try to solve the mys­tery of De­tec­tive Sean Suiter’s death, and in ret­ro­spect, his con­tention that it was un­fair to ex­pect the depart­ment’s homi­cide unit, of which Suiter was a beloved mem­ber, to han­dle the case seems right, too. We now know that in­ves­ti­ga­tors are di­vided over whether Suiter was mur­dered or com­mit­ted sui­cide and that both sides on that ques­tion have ev­i­dence to back up their as­ser­tions. We have no idea what the truth is, of course, but given the homi­cide de­tec­tives’ per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with Suiter — not to men­tion the pos­si­bil­ity that a rul­ing of sui­cide could make his fam­ily in­el­i­gi­ble for cer­tain sur­vivor ben­e­fits — it’s rea­son­able to won­der whether mem­bers of the unit could ap­proach the ques­tion as ob­jec­tively as they would any other case. And all else aside, it has been five months since Suiter’s death. It’s time to try some­thing new.

What’s not help­ful is the re­sump­tion of fin­ger-point­ing and blame-shift­ing among those who have been in­volved in the case. Mayor Cather­ine Pugh and former po­lice chief Kevin Davis ar­gued this week about whose idea it was to re­quest that the FBI take over the case. To some ex­tent, it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter — the FBI de­clined, af­ter all. But in a broader sense, it speaks to the de­gree to which pol­i­tics have swal­lowed up this in­ves­ti­ga­tion in ways that have at least pre­vented the public from un­der­stand­ing the truth of what we know and what we don’t. Com­mis­sioner De Sousa is tak­ing steps (with Mayor Pugh’s sup­port) that hold out the hope of mov­ing us past that.

Mr. Davis said this week that the de­ci­sion to call for the FBI to take over the case was his alone. Mayor Pugh says it was her idea. In a text mes­sage in De­cem­ber, he said he and the mayor had “been in con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion about this de­ci­sion.” When asked Wed­nes­day when she had told Mr. Davis to ask the FBI to take over, Mayor Pugh said “right af­ter [Suiter’s] fu­neral.” In De­cem­ber (and in a fol­low-up in­ter­view Thurs­day) she said the de­ci­sion had been made be­fore the fu­neral but was only an­nounced af­ter­ward out of def­er­ence to Suiter’s fam­ily.

Back then, the tim­ing was an is­sue be­cause both Mayor Pugh and Mr. Davis wanted to make clear that they were not re­act­ing to a let­ter from City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Coun­cil­man Bran­don Scott re­quest­ing that the city ask the FBI to take over. Now it comes across as a proxy fight for who re­al­ized first that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was go­ing nowhere.

The po­lit­i­cal cross-cur­rents that have gath­ered around the Suiter case are by now in­tense. It was ob­vi­ous soon af­ter his death that they were af­fect­ing the way the depart­ment talked about the case — first in jus­ti­fy­ing the vir­tual lock­down of a West Bal­ti­more neigh­bor­hood and then in ex­plain­ing the news that Suiter was due to ap­pear as a wit­ness in the Gun Trace Task Force case. As time has gone on, it has be­come ap­par­ent that they could be ham­per­ing the depart­ment’s abil­ity to dis­pas­sion­ately con­sider all the pos­si­bil­i­ties of what hap­pened.

Mr. Davis is mak­ing Com­mis­sioner De Sousa’s state­ment this week out to be an attack on the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the city’s homi­cide de­tec­tives. We don’t read it that way, or even nec­es­sar­ily as a crit­i­cism of Mr. Davis’ ini­tial han­dling of the case. The ev­i­dence that has emerged is sim­ply far more per­plex­ing than it first ap­peared, and the pos­si­bil­i­ties that emerged are much more emo­tion­ally fraught for Suiter’s former col­leagues than could ini­tially have been imag­ined. We see Com­mis­sioner De Sousa’s judg­ment as one made with hind­sight and a recog­ni­tion that we are no closer to a de­fin­i­tive an­swer about Suiter’s death now than we were the day it hap­pened. The Suiter fam­ily, the po­lice depart­ment and the public de­serve for all those in­volved to put their egos aside and al­low a fresh set of eyes to look at this case and fol­low the facts wher­ever they lead.

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