A Baltimore police detective who officials initially said was fatally shot in a struggle with a suspect actually took his own life with his service weapon, according to an independent report released Tuesday.
Sean Suiter, 43, was shot in the head with his own gun November 15 in a vacant lot in West Baltimore, police said.
The fatal shooting occurred the day before Suiter, a homicide detective, was scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury in a police corruption case involving fellow officers. Then-Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said at the time that a brief call Suiter made on his police radio occurred during a struggle with a killer.
Suiter’s death led to a manhunt, 12 search warrants, 123 interviews and a reward of more than $200,000 for the capture of the suspected gunman.
By early 2018, Baltimore police had exhausted all leads, and so commissioned an independent review of the homicide investigation, the circumstances surrounding the shooting and lessons from that day, according to the report.
The Independent Review Board said the lack of defensive wounds on Suiter’s knuckles, hands or arms, along with the presence of shell casings from Suiter’s Glock service weapon at the scene and the officer’s DNA inside the barrel of the gun and on its surface helped the board reach the conclusion that Suiter took his own life.
Suiter was right-handed, and the bullet entered from the right side of his head, the report said. Blood spatter was found inside his right sleeve cuff, it said.
“It is most implausible that anyone other than Detective Suiter could have fired the fatal shot with his weapon,” the report said.
Baltimore residents “should not fear that a ‘cop killer’ is on the loose,” the report said.
The report also criticized the statements of Davis, who initially said that Suiter approached a man “acting suspiciously” and then was killed. There was no evidence to support that conclusion, the report said.
“The commissioner repeatedly shared unverified and ultimately inaccurate information with the public, despite the emergence of forensic and other evidence suggesting that Suiter took his own life,” it said.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh ousted Davis in January, saying the city wasn’t reducing violence fast enough.
What the report found
The seven-member board, which includes former law enforcement members, reviewed material including witness videos, radio and 911 transmissions and footage from a neighborhood camera on the day of the shooting.
Neither Paul Siegrist, an attorney for Suiter’s widow, nor the detective’s union, the Fraternal Order of Police, could be reached for comment Tuesday.
Gary Tuggle, the Baltimore police’s interim commissioner, said police will integrate the independent board’s recommendations into the department’s reform efforts, and expressed his condolences to Suiter’s family.
“My hope is that Detective Suiter’s family will see some clarity as a result of this report as they continue to mourn,” Tuggle said.
A month before Suiter’s death, the report said, a detective with the department’s now defunct Gun Trace Task Force pleaded guilty to felony charges in a corruption probe and implicated Suiter in robberies in 2008 when they were both officers. That detective said Suiter “knowingly planted heroin in a suspect’s car to justify a high-speed police chase” that led to an accident killing an elderly driver, the report said.
Suiter declined to be interviewed by the FBI in the corruption investigation and was served a grand jury subpoena, the report said. “Suiter was reported to have asked the FBI agents ‘(W)ill I lose my job?’ ” the report said.
Suiter, who was considered a subject of the investigation, was granted limited immunity for all potential criminal acts arising from that incident, the report said.
The day before the shooting, Suiter requested David Bomenka, a “very junior” detective, accompany him to a West Baltimore neighborhood to find a potential witness, known only as “Mary,” in a triple homicide Suiter investigated nearly a year earlier, the report said.
The two detectives returned to the neighborhood the next day and began searching for a suspicious person Suiter said he had seen, the report said.
During the search, Suiter’s attorney called him twice because they were scheduled to meet later that day. But Suiter did not pick up.
At one point during the search, Suiter made a waving gesture to Bomenka, unholstered his weapon and ran toward a vacant lot, out of view of surveillance cameras and Bomenka, the report said.
Bomenka said he heard Suiter yell, “Stop! Stop! Stop! Police!” He also heard gunshots as he approached Suiter, the report said. During this time, Suiter’s radio transmitted an “unintelligible sound,” then a loud noise and then went dead, the report said.
Bomenka didn’t see a shooter but saw “gun smoke hovering close to the ground where Suiter was located,” it said.
The actions that led to Suiter’s death occurred in “less than nine seconds,” according to the report.
“Video from a neighbor’s video camera and testimony of two witnesses establish that a suspect would have had a couple of seconds at most to disarm Suiter, shoot him with his own weapon, erase any trace of his presence, and exit the vacant lot without being seen or heard,” the report said.
Suiter was found face down, holding his radio in his left hand with his gun underneath him, the report said. His was the only DNA recovered from his gun, it said.
Blood splatter found inside Suiter’s right sleeve meant it must have been exposed to where the bullet entered his skull at the moment he was shot, the report said.
The 18-year officer was pronounced dead the next day.
In addition to determining Suiter was not killed by an unknown suspect, the report also put to rest another theory, saying Suiter “was not killed by his partner Detective Bomenka.”
“Detective Sean Suiter spent the last hour of his life ignoring his attorney’s calls and texts,” the report said.
Instead, he drove around the neighborhood “ostensibly looking for a mysterious ‘Mary’ and perhaps another mystery suspect,” the report said.
“He had a meeting at 5 p.m. to prepare to face his difficult choice before the grand jury” — admit guilt and lose his job, or deny wrongdoing and possibly face charges, the report said. “Time was running out. Suiter’s futile searches may have signaled a quiet desperation before a final, tragic decision.”