Attorneys for the ACLU of Maryland want to know exactly what was happening as police blocked off streets, patted down residents and searched their houses in Harlem Park in the days following Det. Sean Suiter’s death.
The civil rights nonprofit revealed today that it’s filed a public information request for police body-worn camera footage from the five or so days during which police cordoned off several blocks of Harlem Park, the West Baltimore neighborhood where Suiter died on-duty on Nov. 15. The lockdown included pat-downs, squad cars blocking off streets and officers checking identification and denying non-residents access to the neighborhood.
In his Maryland Public Information Act request, ACLU senior staff attorney David Rocah twice referred to the quarantine-like move as an “extraordinary” measure taken by police.
“The public has a right to see body camera footage of police interacting with civilians during the unprecedented cordon in Harlem Park,” Rocah said in a statement. “The publicly stated rationale for the cordon, the need to preserve a crime scene, seems inconsistent with both the scope and duration of the cordon, and with the other police actions that were taken, such as searches, demanding identification, and barring non-residents.”
“In those circumstances, there is a need for greater transparency, which is precisely why we have body cameras in the first place.”
Suiter was killed with his own gun in a vacant lot almost exactly one month ago. Police said three shots were fired. They gave an initial description of a suspect – a black man where a black and white jacket – but haven’t released a sketch or any new details about who they’re searching for over the last month.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has since revealed that Suiter, an 18-year veteran of the department, was set to testify against an indicted Gun Trace Task Force officer the day after he was killed. The officer had tricked Suiter seven years earlier, planting heroin on two suspects after a car crash that Suiter then discovered. The narcotics were used as evidence to arrest and convict both men.
Davis formally asked the FBI to take over the case two weeks ago. The agency hasn’t responded as of today.
While Suiter’s death remains a mystery, so does the conduct of officers during the five-day cordon of the neighborhood, the ACLU says. The organization has requested any body camera footage of officers interacting with civilians, escorting them to or from the locked-down zone, the first 10 minutes of footage depicting searches of occupied dwellings and “any logs of BWC footage recorded by officers working the perimeter of the cordon showing the number of times the BWC was activated, and the duration of the recording.”
The ACLU noted it expects the faces and other details of civilians who interacted with police to be redacted from the footage “to hide their identity and preserve their privacy.”
Baltimore’s Civil Rights Office, including members of the Civilian Review Board, held a town hall meeting in Harlem Park on Nov. 30 to address community concerns about the cordon. Its director, Jill Carter, said her office received an outpouring of concerns from residents and what could be done to hold police accountable.
Police spokesman T.J. Smith said the day before the cordon was torn down that “our efforts to identify and arrest the perpetrator rely on the thoroughness of our investigation and our capacity to recover forensic, physical and other evidence…We appreciate the support and sensitivity from our community during this difficult time.”