FBI Rejects Police Department’s Request to Take Over Det. Suiter Death Investigation

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Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. Still via Baltimore Police/Periscope.

The feds have officially declined to assume control of the probe into Det. Sean Suiter’s murder.

In an undated response letter to Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, Stephen E. Richardson, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division, wrote that “no information has been developed to indicate Detective Suiter’s death was directly connected to an FBI investigation.”

“For this reason, we believe it prudent for your office to continue as the lead in this investigation, with our current commitment to assist and support you fully, including providing FBI analytical, forensic, and investigative support,” Richardson wrote.

Davis read the letter aloud at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. He thanked FBI and DEA officials and local and federal prosecutors, declined a suggestion that he might be “disappointed” with the FBI’s decision, and said he actually feels more informed now from reading the letter than beforehand because it signifies Suiter’s death doesn’t pertain to a federal case.

“I have no doubt in my mind that they would have taken this case” if it did, he said.

The agency’s decision marks a major turn in the probe into the death of the 18-year veteran of the police department. Suiter died on Nov. 15 while investigating an unsolved 2016 triple homicide at the corner of N. Fremont Avenue and Bennett Place, located in West Baltimore’s Harlem Park neighborhood. Police said he approached a suspect engaged in “suspicious behaviors” in the lot before he was shot.

Investigators found that he was shot in the head with his own service weapon, and obtained a brief radio transmission with sounds of gunfire. Three shots were fired, police said. It was Suiter’s partner that evening – not his normal one from the homicide unit, notably – who called 911 from a cell phone while taking shelter across the street.

The case became more complicated when federal investigators revealed Suiter was tied to an officer facing racketeering charges from his time as a member of the infamous Gun Trace Task Force. Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, already awaiting trial for alleged offenses from 2013 to 2016, has been additionally accused of planting narcotics on two suspects in a car following a deadly 2010 high-speed chase through West Baltimore.

It was Suiter who responded to the scene in 2010 and discovered the drugs that were used to wrongfully arrest and convict the two men. (A judge overturned their convictions this month.) Suiter was due to testify against Jenkins the morning after he was shot dead.

Davis formally requested the FBI’s assistance a little over two weeks after Suiter’s death, writing to FBI Director Christopher Wray, “I am growing increasingly uncomfortable that my homicide detectives do not know all of the facts known to the FBI or [United States Attorney’s Office] that could, if revealed to us, assist in furthering this murder investigation.”

He said today that his request was an “unusual step” that he made because of “extraordinary circumstances,” primarily the fact that Suiter was due to testify in a federal case one day after he was killed. “I wanted the credibility to be at its very highest level.”

Davis noted he’s heard concerns and skepticism from locals about whether city police can properly handle the investigation into the death of one of their own, but defended Baltimore homicide investigators as “the best detectives in the world.” He’s now considering whether to hire a nationally known homicide expert to assist with the investigation, though he declined to give specifics.

Alternate theories to a murder have been floated, including that Suiter took his own life, or that one or more officers were involved in his killing. Davis said he was certain the FBI would have taken the case if it thought another cop was involved; for the suicide rumor, he said “there is zero evidence that supports that theory.”

The department has still been receiving tips recently, but hasn’t developed any new suspects or persons of interest, Davis said. Police have additional unreleased evidence, including the radio transmission from Suiter and some video. Davis said it would have been “inappropriate” to share that evidence with the public to his previously pending request to the FBI.

Local and federal authorities are still offering a combined $215,000 in reward money for information leading to the capture of Suiter’s killer.

Even with the FBI’s declined invitation, Davis said the investigation remains very much open.

“It’s not cold, it’s never been cold,” he said. “It remains active.”

Ethan McLeod
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