By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
The Bennett Place alley where Detective Sean Suiter was found shot in the head with his own gun in November 2017 has been stripped of the collection of American flags and teddy bears that filled the entrance shortly after he died.
But the resentment and mistrust that has pervaded the Harlem Park neighborhood after a week-long police lockdown in the aftermath of his shooting has not.
“That man didn’t kill himself, I know he didn’t” offers a woman who stops her Hyundai next to the sidewalk near the location of Suiter’s death, where unprompted she shared her opinion with a reporter.
“I don’t care what they say, there’s no way he committed suicide” she explained. “I don’t believe it one bit.”
It’s a sentiment that is widely shared across the city. And in part, the reason that a recent report from an Independent Review Board (IRB), released last week, which concludes Suiter more than likely committed suicide seems to have only stirred controversy, not ended it.
Throughout the aftermath of Suiter’s shooting and the release of the report, the AFRO has continued to speak to residents, elected officials, and former cops about the circumstances and evidence surrounding Suiter’s death. A series of conversations that make clear the report, while comprehensive, is not the final word.
“I still have questions I want answered,” Councilman Brandon Scott told the AFRO.
Scott says that many members of the council are well aware that the community still has doubts about what happened to Suiter. And for that reason, he says the legislative body plans to review the report carefully while it considers options for exploring the evidence further.
“What I want to do I want to talk to my colleagues, see what they think,” he said, stopping short of committing to holding a hearing on the findings for the council’s Public Safety Committee he chairs.
“We have to review it very thoroughly.”
One of the most vexing questions, Scott says, is why the department kept Harlem Park under lockdown for six days; a decision which the IRB report and an assessment by the federal appointees monitoring the consent decree between the Department of the Justice and the city found troubling, and nearly impossible to justify.
“That is another question I have,” Scott said.
But, if there was any specific answer, the report did not touch on it. Instead, the members of the board toured the Harlem Park neighborhood and gathered anecdotes from residents who said while they found the lockdown inconvenient, police were courteous.
But, the board also learned residents found the initial theory put forth by former Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, that a lone Black gunman had killed Suiter, fueled doubt and speculation within the community the 17-year veteran was killed by rogue cops.
“Several of the interviewed individuals commented upon the confusing and inconsistent information that BPD provided about the tragedy,” the report states.
“This confusion, they contended, spawned theories that Det. Suiter was the victim of an “inside job” by other members of BPD (presumably associated with the GTTF criminal conspirators) who wanted to silence Suiter before he testified before the grand jury,” according to the report.
The Gun Trace Task Force was a group of eight Baltimore police officers who were either convicted or pleaded guilty to robbing residents, dealing drugs, and stealing overtime.
The burgeoning scandal engulfed Suiter, who was set to testify in front of a federal grand jury about a drug stop turned robbery, which occurred in 2010. The case, which involved the GTTF ringleader Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, led to charges that Jenkins planted drugs on Baltimore resident Umar Burley after he tried to evade him and caused a fatal accident.
This incident is one of the motives the report cites as evidence why Suiter might have committed suicide; that the federal prosecutors had offered him limited immunity and he was facing the possibility of being implicated in the crime.
The report goes into painstaking detail on the evidence the group of former homicide detectives and law enforcement experts believed make the case for Suiter taking his own life.
Among the most compelling evidence is the blood spatter in the shirt sleeve of Suiter’s right arm, his DNA on the gun and barrel, and the lack of evidence of a struggle with an assailant.
A video that appears to show Suiter pacing in front of the alley has caused concerns that it is too grainy to decipher. But it too adds to a sense that whatever happened in the alley, it doesn’t conform to the narrative proffered by Davis of the lone Black gunman.
“Their findings are juxtaposed with what we were told initially,” Scott said.
Still for Scott, the report again emphasizes that the broader issue for the department, outside oversight.
“That’s why I plan to analyze it line by line.”