The FBI declined to take over the investigation of a Baltimore homicide detective’s fatal shooting the day before he was scheduled to testify to a federal grand jury in a police corruption case involving seven fellow officers.
The seven Baltimore police officers — members of the department’s Gun Trace Task Force — stand accused in a federal racketeering indictment of seizing money from people they have stopped, claiming fraudulent overtime and filing false affidavits.
Sean Suiter, 43, was shot in the head with his own gun after struggling with his killer on November 15 in west Baltimore. The 18-year department veteran had been investigating a killing when he noticed a man acting suspiciously and ran toward him.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Suiter struggled with his killer, making a brief call on his police radio at the time, Davis said. He added that Suiter’s clothing indicated he and the killer had struggled. It’s not known whether the man acting suspiciously was the killer.
Suiter died the next day at a hospital.
There is no information to indicate Suiter’s death was directly connected to an FBI investigation, Stephen Richardson, FBI assistant director of the Criminal Investigative Division, told Davis in a letter obtained by CNN on Wednesday.
“For this reason, we believe it prudent for your office to continue as lead in this investigation, with our current commitment to assist and support you fully, including providing FBI analytical, forensic and investigative support.”
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Davis said he understood some of the cynicism and skepticism members of the Baltimore community have expressed regarding the investigation.
“I have taken the unusual step to ask the FBI to take the lead on this investigation primarily because of the extraordinary circumstances associated with the death of Detective Suiter. He was asked to testify as a witness the very next day in federal court regarding an ongoing corruption investigation led by the FBI, so it was out of an abundance of caution. I wanted the credibility to be at its very highest level, I wanted to be transparent.”
Davis said there’s no evidence support the “working theories” that a Baltimore police officer was involved in Suiter’s death, or that Suiter took his own life.
“So what we have before us is a murder committed by a yet-to-be-identified perpetrator,” he said. “We’ve never stopped investigating this case, it’s not cold, it’s never been cold, it remains active.”
The reward for the arrest and conviction of the officer’s killer is $215,000.
Davis and Mayor Catherine Pugh have discussed the possibility of bringing nationally known and respected homicide experts into the investigation.
To date, according to Baltimore police statistics, Suiter is one of 342 people killed in Baltimore in 2017. That figure is matched by 2015 — the year Freddie Gray died — and only surpassed in 1993 with 353 — the most homicides the city has seen in a calendar year since data began being collected in 1970.
“The death of Freddie Gray escalated the erosion of trust in our BPD,” Pugh said in a message when presenting her Comprehensive Violence Reduction and Public Safety Strategies report earlier this year.
“Baltimore City is singularly focused on violence reduction. … Improving quality of life through economic progress, health and wellness, and youth development reduces violence in communities, as evidenced by the success of other cities that have tackled increases in violent crime.”
Pugh’s office will be holding a candlelight vigil in front of City Hall on Thursday evening to honor the lives of those lost to violence.