• Justine Barron

What is going on with the State's Attorney's Office and Detective Sean Suiter?

Deceased Detective Sean Suiter showed on a list of "corrupt" officers released by the State's Attorney's Office. A look at her office's quiet but important history with his death investigation.

State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby flanked by Chief Deputy Michael Schatzow and Deputy Janice Bledsoe, who is overseeing GTTF Conviction Integrity

The SAO "corrupt cop" list

The State's Attorney's Office recently made news by announcing the effort to overturn 790 cases "tainted" by the Gun Trace Task Force, following legislation making that process easier. I wrote in my last entry about how this process had seemed to be proceeding slowly, so the announcement of more GTTF victims being exonerated is certainly positive.

It's frustrating, nonetheless, that there is no transparency around how the 790 cases were selected out of the thousands of cases that SAO itself announced were likely to be affected. The public should demand this transparency around all aspects of GTTF remediation, especially if it's going to be a selective process by agencies with unavoidable conflicts of interest. Ideally, there would also be civilian oversight.

SAO's announcement came with the release of 18 names of BPD officers that Mosby labeled as "corrupt," with 7 more unnamed. These were, apparently, the names of the officers on the 790 selected cases. Some are still with the force; one of the officers on the list, Detective Sean Suiter, is dead.

The news about the 790 cases and 25 officers was met with what has become a pattern with Mosby announcements: 1) positive outcry from national activists and media, calling her a "progressive prosecutor" who takes on dirty cops; 2) negative outcry from all corners of Baltimore. Baltimore activists were angry that Mosby was being given the "progressive" label again.

Two of the dozens of times Mosby was called a "progressive prosecutor" in the last week

Many Baltimore locals also reacted to this decontextualized list of cops. It was confusing: Did the 790 cases include these and only these officers? Did every case of each of these officers get scrutinized? Did any cases of other officers, not on the list, get scrutinized?

The exclusion of Catherine Filippou from the list points to possible conflicts of interest in the decision-making process. Filippou was investigated by the feds for GTTF-linked criminal activity but she's also important to the State's highly politicized Keith Davis, Jr. case. It is unlikely that Mosby would ever make a public statement discrediting Filippou, given what that could say about her long-sought conviction of Davis.

The Baltimore Sun's Justin Fenton further pointed out how one of the cops on the list, Kenneth Ivery, is named on active cases that SAO is prosecuting right now. Was Mosby saying her current cases are tainted? Either way, isn't she handing the defense attorneys a gift?

SAO could've announced the 790 convictions it sought to overturn without naming these officers specifically, creating confusion and potential liability for many city agencies. This includes potential liability for Sean Suiter's family.

Sean Suiter and the State's Attorney's Office

Suiter's funeral, 11/29/17, one day before media was flooded with stories proclaiming his innocence and guilt

As noted, Detective Sean Suiter was on Mosby's "corrupt officers" list. He was killed one day before he was to testify in a GTTF trial. The only evidence that has been presented to the public of Suiter's complicity in anything criminal came from Momodu Gondo's testimony in court, which may have sourced other officers on SAO's list. If SAO has other evidence of Suiter's corruption, it hasn't shared it. Gondo's testimony helped feed the story that Suiter had a guilty conscious and so took his own life.

Interestingly, about a year ago, SAO played a key role in steering Suiter's case away from suicide. Some background:

For almost a year after Suiter's death, media gradually built up to the conclusion that Suiter's death was a suicide. Initially, the story reported by the Baltimore Sun and other local outlets was the BPD officials were still torn between the "twin theories" of a suicide or a stranger killing, unrelated to his imminent testimony. When the leading proponent of the second theory, then-Commissioner Kevin Davis, left office in early 2018, the suicide theory took more prominence. Then, an Independent Review Board hired to investigate Suiter's death presented suicide as its conclusion in August 2018.

During the months after Suiter's shooting, there was only one journalist reporting that Suiter had a "distraught" mindset related to his upcoming testimony, namely Jayne Miller from WBAL News. She based this on anonymous police sources. She also reported that evidence pointed to suicide. Ms. Miller received advanced copies of the IRB report.

Miller is married to the lead prosecutor handling GTTF conviction integrity, Janice Bledsoe.

After the IRB report was released, the Suiter story quieted down a bit. Then, a series of articles from WMAR, sourced mostly by Suiter's attorney and Kevin Davis, began slowly sharing information that sought to discredit some of the IRB's claims. The case seemed to be in a holding place.

Then, on the day before Thanksgiving of 2018, Miller (of all reporters) dropped a news item stating that the Medical Examiner had new evidence to support that Suiter's death was a homicide. The article noted DNA and video evidence that contradicted the IRB, but it didn't say anything more about the evidence or who sourced it.

Later that day, Fenton reported that it was SAO that provided this evidence to the ME. Future news stories from various outlets supported that the ME had been thinking of changing its ruling to suicide, until it saw this evidence from SAO. SAO has never come forward to deny any of this reporting. (Meanwhile, Miller stopped reporting that Suiter's death was most likely a suicide.)

Months passed, and then Suiter's wife and family came forward to state that they believed his death was covered up and an inside job. They also said that nobody from SAO had ever contacted them.

It's all very curious, from who within SAO was digging into the Suiter case to how, when, and why. If SAO's actions impeded the ME from determining suicide, then their actions also may have contributed, at least in part, to the case remaining open. (An open case cannot be scrutinized by Suiter's family or the public.)

But today, SAO has released a statement impugning Suiter's reputation. It's a new development in the Suiter case. SAO is the first party to come forward with a "corrupt but not suicidal" stance on Suiter. Either way, SAO's prior role in Suiter's death investigation seems to have been missing from the reporting on SAO's corrupt cop list.

As to the matter of conflicts of interest...

Sometimes, our local leaders and reporters forget that there does not have to be any documented unethical behavior for conflicts of interest to create problems and consequences. Conflicts are problematic on appearance alone. That is why conflicted attorneys in legal cases recuse themselves. That is why reporters recuse themselves from stories where they might be seen to have interests.

If we cannot get assurances of recusals in the process of seeking remediation for GTTF victims among city agencies (SAO, BPD, and the City Solicitor's office), we should at least demand transparency around how these processes are determined.