Four Harlem Park residents sue over lockdown after Suiter’s death

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ACLU of Maryland Senior Staff Attorney David Rocah speaks at a press conference in Harlem Park. Image still via Facebook Live.

Four Harlem Park residents are suing the Baltimore Police Department and former Police Commissioner Kevin Davis over the six-day lockdown of the neighborhood shortly following the death of Det. Sean Suiter, arguing that it violated their federal and state rights.

After Suiter was found shot in a lot off the 900 block of Bennett Place in November 2017, officers cordoned off the area, police said, to preserve the crime scene and collect evidence.

ACLU of Maryland Senior Staff Attorney David Rocah, who is on the team of attorneys representing the residents, said today the initial area covered six city blocks and was eventually narrowed to two blocks and multiple side streets.

In those six days, residents had to present IDs to exit and get back to their homes, sometimes needing to be escorted by an armed officer to leave the area, Rocah said. Some were questioned about their reason for leaving, and visitors were not allowed to enter, he added.

“If this had happened in any other country, it would inevitably be described as a police state,” he said at a press conference today. “It was no less of one here.”

Two residents in the suit, Juaqueta Bullock and Lauren Holmes, said one of the hardest parts of the lockdown was trying to explain it to their children.

Bullock said the day Suiter was shot was one of the worst of her life, describing how she and her daughter were forbidden from entering her home for hours.

“And it was cold, and she was hungry and she was tired,” Bullock said of her daughter. “As a parent, you can deal with a lot, but you can’t deal with seeing your child cry and say, ‘I want to go home.'”

Added Holmes: “It was just very uncomfortable, and I don’t think that this is something that should take place just because you live in a certain neighborhood.”

The other two plaintiffs are Nicole Lee and Luella Lawson. The ACLU today released a timeline of the lockdown with all four women sharing their experiences.

The federal lawsuit is seeking a declaration that the actions of the BPD were illegal, a prohibition against similar stops, a court order to destroy any files police made on the residents during the lockdown and damages for the plaintiffs.

A representative from the Baltimore Police Department declined to comment on the suit. Davis’ current employer, the cybersecurity firm Armored Things, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Both Rocah and ACLU of Maryland Executive Director Dana Vickers Shelley made the case that residents in Roland Park would not be subjected to a lockdown with ID checks.

“The constitutional rights of black residents must finally be respected by Baltimore police and the leadership of this city,” said Vickers Shelley.

A 2018 report from the monitoring team tasked with carrying out a federally monitored consent decree with the BPD said the departments response raised “clear constitutional concerns.”

Rocah said there’s a number of cases establishing that police checkpoints are a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Specifically, he noted a 2010 settlement between Washington, D.C. and residents of the Trinidad neighborhood after police there stopped drivers for questioning.

“It’s a basic right that we have–or are supposed to have–in this country to walk around freely without police intervention into our lives,” he said. “That’s what was tossed out the window in Harlem Park.”

Brandon Weigel

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