How agents probed death

No-knock war­rants, wire­taps, no leads in city neigh­bor­hood

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Justin Fen­ton

When Bal­ti­more Po­lice De­tec­tive Sean Suiter was fa­tally shot in a va­cant lot in Har­lem Park in Novem­ber 2017, fed­eral drug agents and city po­lice sprang into ac­tion, hop­ing to drum up leads.

DEA agents ob­tained wire­taps and ac­ti­vated a cell­phone track­ing sys­tem called St­ingray, in­stalled hid­den cam­eras and got court ap­proval to use GPS track­ers. Con­fi­den­tial in­for­mants and un­der­cover of­fi­cers pro­vided in­for­ma­tion in an ag­gres­sive — and ul­ti­mately un­suc­cess­ful — ef­fort to find out who, if any­one, shot a city cop.

Hun­dreds of pages of fed­eral court doc­u­ments ob­tained by The Bal­ti­more Sun re­veal for the first time the deep in­volve­ment of fed­eral law en­force­ment and shed new light on raids and in­ves­tiga­tive work per­formed by city po­lice. The records show the ef­fort pro­duced no leads in the Suiter case, which po­lice now con­sider a self­in­flicted shoot­ing. It re­mains of­fi­cially clas­si­fied as an un­solved homi­cide.

In­stead, au­thor­i­ties scooped up fringe play­ers on mi­nor charges, with few re­ceiv­ing any jail time. They rousted a man and his girl­friend on a Sun­day af­ter­noon, haul­ing him in for ques­tion­ing, tak­ing some of his pos­ses­sions but never bring­ing charges. An­other Har­lem Park res­i­dent was in­dicted on state court charges that were ul­ti­mately dropped.

In all, 1,300 pages of in­ves­tiga­tive notes and war­rant ap­pli­ca­tions ob­tained from a de­fen­dant in one of the cases show a con­certed ef­fort by the feds to

help lo­cate a po­ten­tial cop killer be­fore even­tu­ally cut­ting bait and pass­ing in­for­ma­tion on to lo­cal prose­cu­tors.

“It was ev­ery­one com­ing to­gether to play a role,” said Don Hib­bert, who re­cently re­tired as the as­sis­tant spe­cial agent in charge of the DEA’s Bal­ti­more field of­fice. “We started pulling all our sources, all of our in­tel, just try­ing to gather as much as we could to help BPD fig­ure out what hap­pened to De­tec­tive Suiter. If there was any­thing that could’ve been ex­ploited, we cer­tainly would have done so.”

The fed­eral wire­tap and other ef­forts con­tin­ued for months and led au­thor­i­ties in many di­rec­tions. Records show in­ves­ti­ga­tors try­ing to over­hear talk of Suiter’s killing in­stead lis­tened in as a man dis­cussed killing an ac­quain­tance. The agents also helped po­lice lo­cate a sus­pect in an un­re­lated kid­nap­ping and rob­bery.

The doc­u­ments add new in­sight to what oth­ers say was an over­bear­ing and in some cases un­con­sti­tu­tional im­po­si­tion on the neigh­bor­hood, which was locked down for days. Bal­ti­more po­lice still haven’t re­turned a com­puter and elec­tron­ics taken from a man never ac­cused of a crime, records show, and they im­pounded an­other man’s car with­out a search war­rant.

The ACLU re­cently filed a law­suit on be­half of res­i­dents who could not ac­cess their homes, but oth­ers say that is only scratch­ing the sur­face of abuses in­flicted as part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

City prose­cu­tors charged Carey Olivis, 55, with be­ing part of a drug con­spir­acy, though his name ap­pears only once within DEA doc­u­ments pro­vided to at­tor­neys for de­fen­dants as ev­i­dence in the case. He fought the charges, in­sist­ing he was in­no­cent, and prose­cu­tors ul­ti­mately dropped his case.

“They de­stroyed a lot of lives,” said Olivis, who said he wasn’t able to find work as the charges lin­gered.

Ac­tive drug case

Months be­fore Suiter’s death, the DEA had an ac­tive case in the 900 block of Ben­nett Place, which had seen a high num­ber of shoot­ings. In­ves­tiga­tive doc­u­ments show drug pur­chases be­ing made by un­der­cover po­lice of­fi­cers as far back as Au­gust 2017; the buys ap­pear to have been spo­radic and mi­nor, but con­tin­ued through the day be­fore Suiter was shot.

Af­ter the shoot­ing, au­thor­i­ties of­fered a six-fig­ure re­ward and pooled re­sources to turn up in­for­ma­tion. Drug agents moved to get up on as many wire­taps as pos­si­ble — per­suad­ing Bal­ti­more Cir­cuit Judge Ti­mothy Doory to sign off on wire­taps and track­ing war­rants for a slew of peo­ple.

“Your af­fi­ant and oth­ers are cur­rently en­gaged in a narcotics in­ves­ti­ga­tion in that area due to the re­cent mur­der of Bal­ti­more Po­lice Det. Sean Suitor,” DEA task force of­fi­cer Craig Jester wrote in one war­rant ap­pli­ca­tion.

Tony Gioia, a long­time city pros­e­cu­tor who re­tired last year as chief coun­sel, said wire­taps are typ­i­cally dif­fi­cult to ob­tain. “The stan­dard is very high, as it should be,” Gioia said. “In my ex­pe­ri­ence, to es­tab­lish ne­ces­sity for elec­tronic sur­veil­lance, it might take months of painstak­ing work to show you can’t meet the goals of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion with­out a wire­tap.”

Once the wires were up, the drug agents heard some deal­ers dis­cussing how the po­lice pres­ence af­fected their busi­ness.

“I had to [move] for real cause s---- crazy. You know about that lit­tle cop and s----and all that, for real,” one told an as­so­ci­ate.

“Yeah, they go­ing crazy,” the as­so­ci­ate said of the po­lice.

An un­der­cover of­fi­cer reached out to some­one he had bought drugs from be­fore. The man re­sponded that he wouldn’t be sell­ing be­cause his sup­ply was hid­den in­side the area cor­doned off by law en­force­ment. They heard oth­ers con­tin­u­ing to sell in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity.

But there was no chat­ter on the wires about Suiter’s death. Tips flowed in through other chan­nels, to a tipline and to of­fi­cers on the street and in other agen­cies.

Swept up

Donte Hol­i­day, 41, had fin­ished watch­ing foot­ball Nov. 19 when BPD tac­ti­cal of­fi­cers with lights on their hel­mets crashed into his home in the 700 block of Dol­phin Street. They hand­cuffed him and his girl­friend, An­gela Fra­zier. Their 6-year-old son was show­er­ing when men in fa­tigues car­ry­ing ri­fles en­tered the bath­room, video from the of­fi­cers’ body cams show. Ev­ery­one was taken down­town.

The no-knock war­rant signed by thenDistri­ct Judge Devy Pat­ter­son Rus­sell cited al­le­ga­tions of Fra­zier sell­ing drugs from a cor­ner store at the op­po­site end of Ben­nett Place on the af­ter­noon Suiter was shot. But their true mis­sion was to col­lect Hol­i­day — city po­lice had re­ceived a tip that Hol­i­day was the shooter, records re­viewed by The Sun show.

“We’re here to as­sist you with your drug search war­rant be­cause of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that’s on­go­ing down the street,” homi­cide unit Lt. Wil­liam Sim­mons whis­pered to other of­fi­cers in the kitchen, a mo­ment cap­tured on body cam­era footage. “If we re­cover any­thing that may be linked to the homi­cide, stop the search, and we’ll prob­a­bly get a sec­ond search war­rant.”

At first, Hol­i­day said, de­tec­tives ques­tioned him about drugs. “They was like, ‘Who’s the man down there, who’s run­ning the show?’ ” Hol­i­day re­called in a re­cent in­ter­view.

They asked if Hol­i­day knew Suiter. When he said no, de­tec­tives flashed pa­per­work show­ing that Suiter had been as­signed to in­ves­ti­gate when Hol­i­day was shot in 2015. The name meant noth­ing to him, Hol­i­day said, be­cause Suiter in­ter­viewed him only once while he was be­ing treated at the hos­pi­tal.

Hol­i­day said he was in his house when Suiter was shot and didn’t know any­thing about the case.

“I was scared,” Hol­i­day said of be­ing ques­tioned. “I an­swered every­thing. I knew I had been in the house all that time.”

Hol­i­day re­turned home to find it torn apart. Of­fi­cers took his wal­let and ID cards, as well as a com­puter, two tablets and mul­ti­ple phones, ac­cord­ing to records ob­tained by the ACLU of Mary­land.

Mean­while, he said, his land­lord and other peo­ple around the neigh­bor­hood looked at him dif­fer­ently. “It was like we were la­beled as cop killers,” he said.

Within a week, de­tec­tives brought him in again and took a DNA sam­ple. Hol­i­day said he was later told that he was cleared in Suiter’s death.

The city re­turned cash seized dur­ing the raid on Hol­i­day’s home. But Hol­i­day has been un­suc­cess­ful in get­ting the depart­ment to re­turn the other items.

De­spite mov­ing to close the Suiter in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Novem­ber, po­lice said they won’t re­turn Hol­i­day’s be­long­ings be­cause the case is open and un­der re­view. Spokesman Matt Jablow said the items “are still be­ing eval­u­ated to de­ter­mine whether or not they are con­nected to the Suiter in­ves­ti­ga­tion. At this point, it would not be ap­pro­pri­ate to com­ment fur­ther.”

Po­lice also raided Nancy Smith’s home the same night, say­ing they had seen Fra­zier en­ter her home. She was taken to the homi­cide unit, where “they asked me 100 ques­tions,” though she says none were about Suiter. Smith said noth­ing was taken, and she was never charged with a crime.

Af­ter re­turn­ing Hol­i­day’s money, in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­tin­ued mon­i­tor­ing his girl­friend, Fra­zier. The DEA wire­tapped Fra­zier’s phone. Agents wrote that they lis­tened as she dis­cussed sell­ing drugs, and they said she sold to an un­der­cover of­fi­cer a few weeks later. But noth­ing about Suiter emerged.

To Cal­i­for­nia and back

Still, the DEA con­tin­ued track­ing var­i­ous peo­ple. Task force of­fi­cers trav­eled to the Los An­ge­les area and raided a home of a man be­lieved to be sup­ply­ing drugs to a Bal­ti­more dealer they had wire­tapped.

In April 2018, Bal­ti­more prose­cu­tors from the Ma­jor In­ves­ti­ga­tions Unit ob­tained grand jury in­dict­ments against at least 10 peo­ple.

Olivis was one of them. He and oth­ers were charged with be­ing part of a drug traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion and faced con­spir­acy charges. Olivis said there was no ev­i­dence con­nect­ing him to such a con­spir­acy.

Their cases played out the way many in Bal­ti­more are re­solved: with a judge glanc­ing over the facts and the sen­tenc­ing guide­lines, lis­ten­ing to de­fense at­tor­neys plead their case, then ex­tend­ing an of­fer as a pros­e­cu­tor stood silently.

Olivis didn’t want to deal. Tape of a bench con­fer­ence — with the judge and lawyers for both sides — shows Olivis’ at­tor­ney say­ing she couldn’t fig­ure out what the ev­i­dence against him was. The charges were later dropped.

But that was lit­tle con­so­la­tion. De­tec­tives im­pounded Olivis’ 2002 Lin­coln Town Car dur­ing the raid on Fra­zier, his niece, even though the war­rant against her did not men­tion Olivis or his ve­hi­cle.

He lost the car, he says, be­cause af­ter the Town Car was towed back to his neigh­bor­hood, po­lice never re­turned the keys — and it was im­pounded a sec­ond time for a park­ing vi­o­la­tion. He also lost his job with the school sys­tem.

“I’m try­ing to get my life back,” Olivis said in an in­ter­view. “I was fight­ing a case that never should’ve been put on me.”

The af­ter­math

To­day, more than two years af­ter Suiter was shot, records show that the in­tense polic­ing ef­forts yielded noth­ing in the quest to solve his death, and lit­tle from the raids and sur­veil­lance.

Hol­i­day was never charged with a crime, and Fra­zier, whose lawyer de­scribed her as a “very low-value, low-rank­ing par­tic­i­pant in the con­spir­acy,” re­ceived a time-served sen­tence of one day. At least a dozen other peo­ple who had been looked at by in­ves­ti­ga­tors, in­clud­ing some who were wire­tapped and in­ves­ti­gated ex­ten­sively, ap­pear to never have been charged.

Joshua Car­roll and Avon Winch­ester, Har­lem Park men over­heard dis­cussing plans to shoot an ac­quain­tance, were charged with con­spir­acy to com­mit first­de­gree mur­der and drug and firearms charges. Car­roll’s at­tor­ney, Don­ald Wright, said there was a twist: the man Car­roll and Winch­ester dis­cussed shoot­ing on the wire­tap was will­ing to tes­tify that he was long­time friends with them and re­mained on good terms.

“Our view was that th­ese are guys that’ve known each other for a long time, they were up­set with each other, but the guy never felt in dan­ger and there was never any at­tempt to fur­ther vi­o­lence,” Wright said.

Winch­ester re­ceived a sen­tence of 15 years with all but eight months sus­pended; Car­roll re­ceived a sen­tence of 20 years, with all but one day sus­pended.

Asked about the out­comes, Hib­bert, the for­mer as­sis­tant spe­cial agent in charge, said: “We did in­ves­ti­ga­tions, and we leave it up to the pros­e­cu­tion and for the judges to hand down the sen­tences.”

Zy Richard­son, a spokes­woman for the State’s At­tor­ney’s Of­fice, said, “Just like all cases where we col­lab­o­rate with the DEA and BPD, we eval­u­ate the ev­i­dence and pro­ceed ac­cord­ingly.”

Olivis, Hol­i­day and Fra­zier all worked with the ACLU of Mary­land, hop­ing to be­come part of a law­suit against po­lice re­gard­ing treat­ment of peo­ple in Har­lem Park. They are speak­ing out be­cause they are frus­trated they were not in­cluded as plain­tiffs. In Novem­ber the or­ga­ni­za­tion filed a law­suit on be­half of sev­eral other neigh­bor­hood res­i­dents, al­leg­ing po­lice vi­o­lated their civil rights. The ACLU would not dis­cuss its de­ci­sions but did give a state­ment to The Sun.

“The law­suit that the ACLU filed on be­half of Har­lem Park res­i­dents is fo­cused on the po­lice cor­don, and our clients are all res­i­dents who were sub­jected to se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions and harms caused by the lock­down and cor­don check­points,” the ACLU said in a state­ment.

Hol­i­day, whose items seized in the raid have not been re­turned, has a sim­ple re­quest now: “I just want my stuff back.”

Bal­ti­more Po­lice De­tec­tive Sean Suiter was killed in a va­cant lot in Har­lem Park in Novem­ber 2017. Po­lice con­sider it a self-in­flicted shoot­ing.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Donte Hol­i­day, An­gela Fra­zier and Carey Olivas were af­fected by the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Bal­ti­more Po­lice De­tec­tive Sean Suiter’s death.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.