A group of seven former law enforcement officers, criminal justice analysts and a lawyer will review the police’s investigation of the death of Det. Sean Suiter, Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa announced today.
Chaired by James “Chips” Stewart, the director of public safety at the analytics firm CNA and former commander with the Oakland Police Department, and James “Chip” Coldren, the managing director for justice programs at CNA and a former criminal justice professor, the Independent Review Board will review Suiter’s death and the department’s report, crime scene investigation and community relations with the Harlem Park neighborhood where the incident occurred.
Members will recommend best practices and policies based on its findings.
“We have convened a board of nationally recognized experts who have lots of experience in investigating very difficult and challenging cases,” Stewart said. “We’re gonna follow where the evidence leads us, and we are gonna provide some conclusions to follow the three charges that the commissioner asked us to take a look at.”
The other members are Gary T. Childs and Marvin Syndor, both Baltimore City homicide detectives; Rick Fuentes, a former New Jersey State Police officer; Peter Modafferi, a former detective with the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office in New York; and Charlie Scheeler, senior counsel at the law firm DLA Piper.
Stewart said the investigation will take about six months, perhaps less.
Approximately $150,000 will come out of the police department’s budget to fund the review, De Sousa said. All members of the board will meet four times, conducting independent investigative work in between.
The board will be reviewing all matters related to the case, including whether Suiter’s death was a homicide, an accidental injury, a suicide or “if it was caused by something internally within the department,” De Sousa said.
Suiter was shot in a vacant lot with his own service weapon, but questions have arisen about what happened before and after. Accounts provided by police describe a struggle with a man in the vacant lot. Initial reports described the suspect as an African-American man in a black jacket with a white stripe. Suiter was taken to a hospital in a patrol vehicle that got into an accident on the way to the hospital.
De Sousa noted that CNA had worked with the department before to investigate the deaths of two men killed by police officers, Anthony Anderson and Tyrone West. The Real News Network‘s Baynard Woods pointed out that the community has been dissatisfied with the outcomes of those reviews.
“Well, they’re experts–they’re experts in their field,” De Sousa said. He also pointed to the investigation into the death of William Torbit, an officer killed by friendly fire during a melee outside a nightclub, and said the group’s findings led to policy changes for plainclothes officers.
Both De Sousa and Stewart pledged transparency with the public during the investigative process.
“The community wants the same answers as we want internally,” De Sousa said.
The full Independent Review Board will come to town some time next week for its first meeting to be briefed and look through all of the evidence related to Suiter’s death. Asked if he had any preconceived notions about the case, Stewart said it was important for investigators to come in with a “blank slate.”
“The evidence is what the evidence is,” he said. “And what we’re trying to take a look at is to see whether, with fresh eyes, that there’s any assistance that we can provide, and also a bit of a yardstick to show them what other places are doing.”