How agents probed death
No-knock warrants, wiretaps, no leads in city neighborhood
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.
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.”
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.
Donte Holiday, Angela Frazier and Carey Olivas were affected by the investigation into Baltimore Police Detective Sean Suiter’s death.