Slain Baltimore officer, York County resident remembered as hero, caring public servant

Kevin Rector
The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE – Sean Suiter, the 43-year-old Baltimore homicide detective and York County resident who was killed two weeks ago while investigating a triple murder on the city’s west side, was remembered Wednesday at a funeral attended by thousands.

Suiter, a resident of Conewago Township, had a “unique ability to calm witnesses and family members,” Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said, reading excerpts from the officer’s performance evaluations. He was who his peers in the Western District consulted before their supervisors, an officer who kept an “immaculate” appearance – an extension of his years in the military — and who mentored youthful offenders.

Once, an 80-year-old woman dropped off a birthday card for him at the police station, thanking him for looking after her, Davis said.

Suiter was shot Nov. 15 in what police have described as a brief but violent struggle in a vacant lot in Harlem Park with a suspect whose identity remains unknown.

For now, it is the only unsolved line-of-duty death in the agency’s history.

That uncertainty occasionally crept into the service. Gov. Larry Hogan, who said Suiter “died a hero,” remarked on the “blinding pain and unanswered questions” surrounding his death. The Rev. Darryl Brace, in an opening prayer, called on a higher power for guidance.

“There’s a lot going on around what took place, but we’re confident, father, that you know, and those who perpetrated the crime will not get away,” he said as mourners erupted in applause.

Members of Suiter’s squad from the homicide unit gathered on the stage, including David Bomenka, the detective who was with Suiter when he was shot and who sought aid.

Detective Jonathan Jones, speaking for the group of officers, read a psalm often cited at funerals: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

“As homicide detectives,” Jones said, “we go through the valley, we stay in the valley, and we bring those out of the valley who are sometimes lost. Sean was the epitome of that.”

Suiter had a penchant for calling people “Champ.” “We got it from here, Champ,” Jones said.

Suiter is the first Maryland police officer killed in the line of duty this year, and the 137th in the history of the Baltimore Police Department.

Authorities are offering a $215,000 reward for tips in Suiter’s killing, but have struggled to understand what took place. The detective was shot with his own gun, which was found at the scene. Two other shots were fired from the gun, and Davis said there were signs of a brief struggle. A brief, unintelligible transmission came across his radio, which was still in his left hand as responding officers arrived.

Police believe Suiter and Bomenka had seen a suspicious person about 20 minutes earlier, and that Suiter was attempting to re-engage the person in an alley when the shooting occurred. Bomenka was seen on surveillance camera taking cover across the street as the shooting occurred, and it is not clear whether he saw anyone. Police have no specific suspect description.

Suiter’s funeral attracted hundreds of officers from across the state, and afterward, the procession to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens cemetery in Timonium tied up traffic on the beltway. In a video posted to Twitter by police spokesman T.J. Smith, motorists could be seen pulled over on the road, saluting and waving.

The funeral was held at the 3,000-seat sanctuary at Mount Pleasant Church, where the altar is encircled with pews both on the ground floor and atop a broad balcony. Law enforcement officers filled the balcony level and half of the pews in front of the altar.

Davis sat in a front row pew next to Pugh and Hogan and across an aisle from Suiter’s wife and children in another front row.

Davis saluted Suiter’s casket before moving to the pulpit and removing his hat and white gloves. He then expressed his “deepest condolences” to Suiter’s family, thanked Suiter’s wife Nicole for her “strength and grace,” and told those gathered that Suiter was a hero.

Davis said “Suiter gave, and the Baltimore Police Department gives each and every day.”

“It’s time for the local and national narrative to start reflecting that reality,” he said. The line drew applause from many of the mourners in the church.

Pugh placed her hand over her heart at Suiter’s casket. At the pulpit, she said her “heart grieves” with Suiter’s family, and that it is her goal to expand the police department to 3,000 officers to help improve safety in the city.

She said each time an officer leaves his or her home, “the hearts and souls of their family leave with them,” and the city has a duty to protect those families just as the officers “come to protect and serve” the city.

“The memory of Sean Suiter will never leave the minds and hearts of our community,” she said to Suiter’s family. “Know that he is loved, not only by you, but by all of us.”

Suiter was born and raised in Washington DC, then entered the U.S. Army, where he served from 1992 to 1998, and was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant. After joining in the Baltimore Police Department in 1999, he remained in the Army Reserves and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, from May 2005 to January 2007.

Hogan said Suiter dedicated his life to public service, serving in an “unsafe place, in unsafe times.”

Hogan asked the other police officers in the church to live by the “goodness, dedication and selfless service” that marked Suiter’s life.

“Today we remember the man, and honor the hero,” Hogan said.

Suiter’s son Marquis then stood and addressed his mother and the strong relationship his parents had. “You guys were best friends, and I strive to have that in life,” he said.

He then read a poem composed as if written by Suiter to his wife.

“Don’t feel guilty that you have life that was denied to me. Heaven is truly beautiful, just you wait and see,” Suiter’s son read. “So live your life, be free and know with every breath you take, you’ll be taking one for me.”

“That man right there,” Marquis Suiter said, pointing at the casket, “is a great man.”