Panel reportedly finds death of Baltimore detective from York County likely suicide, not murder

The Baltimore Sun
FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Baltimore Police Department shows Detective Sean Suiter. New police leadership is bringing in an outside consultant to review the unsolved slaying of Suiter, portrayed as a hero by everyone from the governor to the city's mayor and police brass. Suitor was killed with his own gun a day before he was set to testify before a grand jury investigating dirty cops. (Baltimore Police Department via AP)

BALTIMORE – The independent panel appointed to review the death of Baltimore homicide Det. Sean Suiter has concluded that the officer likely took his own life, according to a source with knowledge of the findings.

It is not clear how the board reached its conclusion, and a spokesman said there was no timetable for the report’s formal release. The chair of the panel could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Suiter was a resident of Conewago Township in York County.

Contrasting opinions about the case had been swirling within the Baltimore Police Department since early in the investigation, even as the state medical examiner’s office ruled his death a homicide. Some believed the evidence pointed to his death being a suicide staged to look like a killing, while others said that theory strained credibility and was a convenient out for an agency struggling to solve the death of one of its own.

Suiter was fatally shot in November while conducting follow-up investigation on a triple homicide in West Baltimore. Police locked down the surrounding neighborhood of Harlem Park, and a reward for Suiter’s killer reached more than $200,000.

Police said he was shot with his own gun, and The Sun first reported in March that body camera footage from the first responding officers showed the weapon was found under his body. Suiter had been shot behind the ear, with the bullet travelling forward. Sources who watched a surveillance video from the neighborhood said it showed Suiter pacing in front of a vacant lot before darting in.

His death occurred the night before Suiter was set to testify before a grand jury investigation into corruption allegations involving a member of the police department’s Gun Trace Task Force. In 2011, Suiter had taken part in an arrest in which federal prosecutors now say drugs were planted on a man who fled the officers and got into a deadly crash. Davis said he was told by federal authorities that Suiter was not a target of that investigation.

FILE - In this Nov. 27, 2017, file photo, a makeshift memorial sits in an alley where Baltimore Police Detective Sean Suiter was shot while investigating a 2016 triple homicide in Baltimore. The unsolved slaying of a homicide detective haunts the Baltimore Police Department. More than three months have passed since an on-duty attack killed Suiter a day before he was set to testify before a grand jury investigating dirty cops. Investigators have come up empty-handed. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Investigators never recovered DNA or fingerprints of a suspect. While then-Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said there was evidence that Suiter had been engaged in a “violent struggle,” sources said the evidence of that was dirt on his knee.

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“There are probabilities and possibilities,” Davis said at a news conference last year. “Any time we have an investigation like this we have to examine every possibility. … But based on our evidence and based on the investigation that pursues that particular possibility, there is no evidence that (suicide) was probable.”

Suiter was with a partner, Det. David Bomenka, who is on tape ducking behind a tree across the street from where the shooting occurred. The panel to review the case was appointed by then-Commissioner Darryl De Sousa, who later would step down after being indicted by federal prosecutors on failure to pay taxes charges.

A collection of honor guards stand at attention before Baltimore Police Det. Sean Suiter's funeral at Mount Pleasant Church in Baltimore, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. Suiter died a day after being shot while investigating a homicide case in a particularly troubled area of west Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The panel is headed by James “Chips” Stewart and James “Chip” Coldren Jr., who worked for CNA Consulting in Arlington, Va. Stewart served on previous independent panels that looked at controversial Baltimore cases, including the 2011 “friendly fire” shooting outside the Select Lounge that killed Officer William H. Torbit Jr. Stewart also led the panel that reviewed the 2013 death of Tyrone West in Baltimore police custody.

Also on the Suiter panel is Charles P. Scheeler, senior counsel with the DLA Piper law firm; two retired Baltimore homicide detectives, Gary Childs and Marvin Sydnor; Rick Fuentes, a retired New Jersey State Police superintendent who served in the administration of Gov. Chris Christie and a reported finalist to head the Drug Enforcement Administration in the Trump administration; and Peter Modafferi, a retired chief of detectives in the Rockland County, N.Y., district attorney’s office.