Cause of cop’s death in dis­pute

Mosby, union say case still open, con­tra­dict­ing po­lice com­mis­sioner

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Jes­sica An­der­son and Tim Pru­dente

The Baltimore Po­lice union joined State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn Mosby in declar­ing Thurs­day that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into de­tec­tive Sean Suiter’s death in 2017 re­mains open.

The de­vel­op­ments came a day af­ter Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Michael Har­ri­son closed the case as a sui­cide af­ter re­ceiv­ing a Mary­land State Po­lice re­port. He said the agency’s re­view backed an ear­lier ex­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion that found Suiter com­mit­ted sui­cide, “nor was there any sug­ges­tion that the case should be re-in­ves­ti­gated or con­tin­ued.”

The state Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner’s Of­fice ini­tially ruled the death a homi­cide and has not changed the find­ing. But as var­i­ous agen­cies dif­fer on the man­ner of death, po­ten­tial pay­ments to the Suiter fam­ily have been on hold. A sui­cide find­ing could mean the loss of more than half a mil­lion dol­lars in ben­e­fits, work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion and pen­sion pay­outs.

Mosby de­clined to talk about the ap­par­ent dis­crep­ancy.

“I can’t com­ment on open and pend­ing mat­ters,” Mosby told re­porters out­side a

down­town court­house.

“An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by your of­fice?” she was asked.

“I can’t com­ment,” she said.

Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 3 Pres­i­dent Sgt. Mike Man­cuso, who is also a de­tec­tive, con­tra­dicted Har­ri­son in a state­ment to The Baltimore Sun. He said that po­lice de­part­ment de­tec­tives still are in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

“The Suiter case is very much an open and ac­tive case be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by BPD Homi­cide,” Man­cuso said. “BPD Homi­cide De­tec­tives are some of the best in the coun­try and will in­ves­ti­gate all cases un­til all leads are ex­hausted.”

Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from po­lice spokesman Matt Jablow, “The State’s At­tor­ney and Com­mis­sioner Har­ri­son have agreed that there are a small num­ber of tasks to com­plete in this case. The Com­mis­sioner re­spects the process and, as a re­sult, BPD is pro­ceed­ing with those tasks.”

The po­lice de­part­ment has not pub­licly re­leased the Mary­land State Po­lice re­port.

Suiter was shot in the head and killed in Novem­ber 2017 in a va­cant lot in West Baltimore while in­ves­ti­gat­ing a homi­cide.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion prompted po­lice to cordon off the Har­lem Park neigh­bor­hood for days as the agency searched for the gun­man. It was later re­vealed that Suiter was shot one day be­fore he was to ap­pear be­fore a fed­eral grand jury in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Gun Trace Task Force cor­rup­tion scan­dal.

It’s un­clear whether the med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice will change the man­ner of death from homi­cide.

The fam­ily would lose ben­e­fits, work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion and pen­sion pay­outs if that de­ter­mi­na­tion changes.

Bruce Gold­farb, a spokesman for the state med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice, said Thurs­day he could not com­ment on any po­ten­tial changes to the find­ing be­cause of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion out of the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice.

“We don’t dis­cuss cases that are un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” he said.

Last year, The Baltimore Sun re­ported Mosby’s of­fice asked the med­i­cal ex­am­iner not to make any changes to the rul­ing on the cause of death in the case, cit­ing lin­ger­ing ques­tions about DNA ev­i­dence.

A pre­vi­ous re­view of the Suiter in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the In­de­pen­dent Re­view Board — a group of law en­force­ment ex­perts hired by the city to re­view the case — con­cluded Suiter’s death was a sui­cide.

Gary Childs, a re­tired homi­cide de­tec­tive who served on the board, told the Sun last year there were no open ques­tions about DNA ev­i­dence. The panel’s 2018 re­port said “no trace­able DNA was re­cov­ered from the weapon other than Suiter’s.”

On Wed­nes­day, Suiter’s fam­ily and at­tor­ney con­demned the state po­lice re­port, say­ing it was merely rub­ber stamp­ing the prior flawed in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Suiter’s wife, Ni­cole, said her fam­ily wanted in­ves­ti­ga­tors to talk to her and learn her hus­band’s state of mind. She was cir­cled by friends and fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing the cou­ple’s chil­dren, who wore shirts that read “#Jus­ticeForSea­nSuiter.”

Suiter’s at­tor­ney, Jeremy Eldridge, said Thurs­day that Mosby’s com­ments con­firm his be­lief that po­lice de­tec­tives and the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice haven’t closed the books on Suiter’s death. He called the com­mis­sioner’s words “de­nied re­al­ity.”

At Wed­nes­day’s press con­fer­ence with the Suiter fam­ily, he said the de­tec­tive was not a sus­pect in the fed­eral Gun Trace Task Force probe and did not com­mit sui­cide.

“We weren’t wor­ried about him be­ing pros­e­cuted,” Eldridge said.

Rather, he said, Suiter was wor­ried about blow­back from col­leagues and how other of­fi­cers looked at him.

It’s un­clear what the re­cent de­vel­op­ments mean for whether the fam­ily would re­ceive any ben­e­fits that it might be en­ti­tled to re­ceive.

“If the death cer­tifi­cate changes from homi­cide to sui­cide, that is go­ing to have a big im­pact on every­thing,” said at­tor­ney Paul Siegrist, hired by the Suiter fam­ily.

“We want to act. We’ve been sit­ting around wait­ing, over a year,” since the in­de­pen­dent re­view board’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­cluded, Siegrist said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day. Ini­tially, he said Suiter fam­ily at­tor­neys thought the re­view board’s de­ter­mi­na­tion might prompt a change in the death cer­tifi­cate. But Siegrist said ul­ti­mately the board didn’t have the au­thor­ity other than to give an opin­ion.

But, he said, the state po­lice find­ings could be dif­fer­ent.

Eldridge said the fam­ily still plans to pur­sue the work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tions funds: “In all fair­ness, noth­ing should change.”

Charles Schultz, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing Suiter’s fam­ily be­fore the state work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion com­mis­sion, said a hear­ing was sched­uled for Oct. 30, but it was post­poned by the com­mis­sion. A new date hasn’t been set, he said.

Schultz said Suiter’s wife is en­ti­tled to a cer­tain amount, based on Suiter’s salary and other fac­tors.

“They’ve been told from day one this was an on-duty death,” and are en­ti­tled to the money, Schultz said.

Mosby

KEVIN RICHARD­SON/BALTIMORE SUN

Sean Suiter's lawyer Jeremy Eldridge, front left, Suiter’s wife, Ni­cole, front cen­ter, his daugh­ter De­myra, front right, fam­ily and friends say his death wasn’t a sui­cide.

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