The Battle over Sean Suiter: "Strained Relations" or Multi-Agency Cover Up?
A look at what is not being discussed in the recent stories about the detective's death
Some families heat up around Thanksgiving, a combination of old wounds, holiday pressures, and seasonal mood disorders. It seems to be now a holiday tradition for Baltimore to revisit the trauma of Detective Sean Suiter’s death every November.
This November, we learned that Commissioner Michael Harrison was going to close the Sean Suiter case after Maryland State Police (MSP) agreed with the 2018 findings of an Independent Review Board (IRB) that the detective took his own life. We also learned that MSP never investigated the original evidence in the case.
Suiter’s wife cried out, “How many times are you going to kill my husband?” not shying away from implying who she feels killed him first.
Despite MSP's findings, it was unclear how the case would be closed: The Sun reported that the Medical Examiner (ME) still officially ruled Suiter’s death a homicide. Either way, a closed case meant that the public could begin accessing case files.
Then, Marilyn Mosby, the State’s Attorney, issued a statement that the investigation into Suiter’s death was “open and pending.” SAO sources told a Sun reporter that the agency was on top of an important lead:
The next day, Harrison issued another statement acknowledging that there was a “small number of tasks to complete” before the case could be closed.
A Baltimore Sun editorial described this story as reflective of "strained relations" between police and prosecutors. Neither side came off great. Harrison had backtracked; SAO had a mysterious involvement in the case.
I touched upon SAO's involvement in this case, which was first reported a year ago, in my last article. Fenton's tweet above made it seem like SAO has its own active investigation into Suiter's death, with fresh leads pointing to homicide. One of these leads is DNA evidence, several articles note, which was also raised last year. Some immediate questions arise:
Why is it taking SAO at least year to move forward on these issues? And why is Harrison acting like he just learned about this list of "tasks"? Didn't SAO share its leads with Harrison and MSP when the state police investigation was announced?
Without more information, it seems just as likely that the open or closed status of the Suiter investigation is being decided based on public access to information, the family's workman's compensation case, or other political concerns.
That said, beyond the surface narrative of "strained relations," these recent developments suggest more about Suiter's death than is immediately apparent in the reporting. The significance of what happened last week becomes clearer when we revisit what happened in Suiter news on Thanksgivings past...
November 2017: Suiter’s Death and the Traumatic Aftermath
In November 2017, of course, Suiter was shot to death in West Baltimore. For the next month, the story offered one awful shock after another. First there was the bizarre and unbelievable story of his shooting. Commissioner Kevin Davis insisted that an assailant grabbed Suiter’s gun out of his hands, shot him, left the gun there, and then disappeared in broad daylight. This alll happened out of sight of a nearby police witness, he said.
Then, there was the unconstitutional locking down of the Harlem Park neighborhood, despite the assailant having reportedly fled; the revelation on Thanksgiving eve (news dump day) that Suiter was going to be a witness in a Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF)-related case the day after he was shot; and the Feds revealing that Davis had misled the public about when the Commissioner knew about that.
Despite the Feds destroying Davis’ credibility in the real world, the local media spent the next four months selling the Commissioner’s main claim about Suiter’s death: it was either a stranger-killing or a suicide, as Davis finally acknowledged was possible; but it was definitely not a hit.
During summer 2018, an Independent Review Board (IRB) published a report arguing that Suiter’s death was a suicide. It was a gut-punch for the family and community, but not for long. The report itself, most acknowledged, wasn’t strong. Its narrative was largely based on an unreliable narrator, Detective David Bomenka, a police witness whose story shifted. Suiter’s legal team later shared information that the IRB had missed. I also dismantled the IRB’s video/audio analysis in some articles.
Baltimore was set to end 2018 in stasis and mystery around Suiter, until Thanksgiving...
That Quiet Thanksgiving 2018 Sean Suiter Story
On the day before Thanksgiving last year (news dump day), WBAL reporter Jayne Miller quietly published a short article about Sean Suiter. It stated that the ME had been presented with "new, unresolved questions" about DNA and video evidence. These issues undermined the IRB report and had caused the ME to maintain its homicide ruling, despite the IRB, according to Miller.
Later that day, the Baltimore Sun followed up with a story that the ME had received this information from SAO.
I have hinted at the importance of the news that day. Now, I want to unpack it fully. SAO, we learned, was involved in the Suiter case, separately from BPD. That was unexpected. The family said that nobody from that office had contacted them.
This story was further significant in how Miller quietly dropped this piece of information and did not name SAO. For one, Miller is married to Janice Bledsoe, Deputy Assistant State’s Attorney, number 3 at SAO.
Also, Miller also had been the first and most influential public voice indicating that Suiter had killed himself. Her campaign around this claim kept ramping up over that year, as I previously reported.
Miller also seemed to constantly have privileged access in the Suiter case. For instance, WBAL’s cameras were on the scene, with no other reporters, to capture a highly dramatized and suspicious bullet discovery by investigators. Miller also received at least some of the IRB report before it was shared publicly and tweeted out particular findings. Only the IRB team and top police officials would’ve had access, according to published memos from meetings.
It is not typical in reporting on Baltimore crime to consider reporters as part of the story. But can you imagine if a spouse of someone in the White House reported on administration stories, kept getting special access, and helped drive particular narratives?
So I ask you to consider the significance of the leading suicide prononent in media for an entire year - who had special access to information from very high up - suddenly shifting her reporting to the likelihood of homicide…
And dropping this quietly before Thanksgiving…
And leaving out her wife’s agency’s involvement in the story.
This begs some questions: Who were Miller’s main sources promoting the suicide narrative for a year? Were those sources still on the force last Thanksgiving, when her narrative shifted? (There was an exodus of BPD leadership around the GTTF trials.)
Why did Miller herself seem to get so involved in that suicide narrative, to the point where she appeared on podcast and radio shows arguing the case? Who gave her access to the IRB report?
Those are questions I don’t expect to get answered, as they involve journalism sources. Still, they reflect how powerful people were handling this case behind the scenes during 2018. And Thanksgiving 2018 was a pivotal moment in that narrative.
SAO Getting Involved
We found out that SAO got involved in the Suiter case last year, but we never learned more about that involvement. We never learned, for instance:
Who at SAO began investigating Suiter’s death and when? Who brought it to SAO? Who within SAO has continued investigating it for the last year? Is that person working with any police agency, like the FBI? (SAO doesn't have its own police powers.)
These are entirely reasonable questions that even BPD would’ve probably answered by this point, at least partly. Mosby stated last week that she cannot answer any questions about an “open and pending” investigation. These questions are not sensitive. We have known that SAO is involved for a year. It's unusual for prosecutors to run their own investigations.
Meanwhile, as noted, SAO fought last week aggressively to keep the Suiter case open. I come back to the initial questions in this article: Did SAO communicate its leads indicating homicide with MSP/Harrison? What has taken SAO so long to follow up on those leads, first announced a year ago?
More bluntly, is SAO really investigating Sean Suiter’s death? Or, is it just holding onto it? Answering even one of the questions above would help settle the matter.
The Sean Suiter Investigation Task List
As far as the task list, we know about a few likely items. Each one indicates something interesting about the case.
First, we’ve heard about the presence of other DNA on Suiter’s gun, still unmatched to anyone. Miller brought it up last year in her November 2018 article. Suiter's attorney, Jeremy Eldridge, brought it up in a press conference last week, and Miller confirmed in a tweet that this was one of the tasks.
If unidentified DNA had been detected two years ago, wouldn’t Commissioner Davis have shouted it from the rooftops? His official theory was that Suiter’s gun was taken from him in a struggle. He had trouble getting public buy-in on this story. Other DNA would've certainly helped.
So when was this additional DNA discovered, and who requested that test? Any answer to those questions significantly impacts our understanding of the investigation.
A second task likely relates to a December 2017 interview with a confidential informant (CI) that was shared with the public by WMAR, also last November. Eldridge mentioned this interview in the family's recent press conference. The CI discussed second-hand information about someone killing Suiter inside of the vacant lot. The CI's account of Suiter "walking over" to the killer does not seem to match the story we see on the video.
The WMAR story did not protect the CI’s identity at all. It mentioned that the CI was a witness in a federal case against Montana Barronette, a notorious criminal. A witness was also killed in Barronette's case a couple of months before that WMAR article. Why was Barronette, apparent witness killer, brought up in the story? (Did someone want this CI dead?) This CI had been arrested by GTTF officers Wayne Jenkins, Evodio Hendrix, and Maurice Ward in 2015.
BPD has stated more than once that it looked into the CI's story about Suiter and did not find it useful. Perhaps BPD will look into the CI's account again. I am wondering if anyone will look into the backstory of how and why that interview happened in the first place.
The CI story recalls another story indirectly related to the case. Two weeks after Suiter's death, the Sun reported on body-worn camera (BWC) footage shared by Commissioner Davis. The BWC video showed police officers harassing a man on the street, before a scuffle and unclear gunshots. Davis claimed that the man grabbed one of the officer's gun and fired at him; this is not at all clear on the BWC. Davis explicitly used the story to help sell his narrative about what happened to Suiter - the idea that civilians grab cops' guns and shoot them.
In other words, just before this CI's interview, some officials in BPD were busy looking to reinforce what was Davis' narrative at the time about Suiter's death. The CI’s story did that too.
Finally, a third investigative "task" may relate to the video evidence. Last Thanksgiving, Miller reported that the ME had information that the video timeline did not match the timeline in the IRB that determined its suicide conclusion. This article cited my work.
By that time, I had published an analysis of the security camera footage and dispatch audio timeline against the IRB's timeline; later, I published another article that used enhancement tools to watch the video closely and synched that up to the audio. Observed very closely, Suiter does not appear to "dart" into a vacant lot and disappear before getting shot, as has been reported. And Bomenka's activities on the video and dispatch also do not match how he was described in the IRB report.
Anyone who studied the video and audio evidence very closely would’ve likely come to the same conclusions as me. I've shared and discussed my findings with Miller, for one, and a couple of others that have key connections to the case.
It is baffling to me that what the publicly released video and audio actually reveals hasn’t been a media conversation by now, outside of my online rantings. For whatever reason, officials don’t want to have that conversation; Miller's reporting in 2018 indicated that they know about it. The evidence is compelling, visual, and upends the entire narrative we have heard to date. Wouldn’t SAO want to do that, if the agency believes that Suiter was killed?
What does it all mean?
If you put all of these fair, reasonable questions together - as well as the fact that some parties have been fighting to keep this case open - I think we could be looking at what happened with Freddie Gray and Keith Davis Jr.: I think we could be looking at a multi-agency cover up of key information in this case. Just because two agencies might both be involved in covering up some evidence doesn’t mean that they agree on everything or are both working with nefarious intent.
There's ample evidence that BPD has been covering up evidence in the Suiter case from the beginning. SAO's role is less clear. The agency could help clarify its purpose and role by answering some of the questions above.
After all, Suiter’s story is part of the GTTF story, and SAO is also part of the GTTF story in many tangled ways. GTTF Sergeant Wayne Jenkins said that someone in SAO leaked the federal investigation to him. Defense attorneys have accused Mosby of knowing about certain GTTF officer misconduct for years. SAO has fired more than one ASA around the GTTF story.
And just last month, SAO announced that it would seek to overturn 790 GTTF-related convictions, while also announcing a list of “corrupt cops.” This list included Suiter. That effort was announced and is being led by Bledsoe. SAO would not answer any questions about how those corrupt cops were selected.
The public has no idea how SAO's Suiter investigation fits into its other GTTF-related efforts, if at all. Again, it is a reasonable question. Even the Baltimore Sun editorial board agreed with me on this one.