Amid criticism of his decision to cordon off the neighborhood where Baltimore Police Detective Sean Suiter was shot last week, Commissioner Kevin Davis announced that new evidence was found today that will help identify his killer.
“Based on the results of the autopsy yesterday,” Davis said, “we have returned to the crime scene and we have, today – five days after Detective Suiter was murdered – recovered additional significant evidence.”
Residents had complained of harassment, a online critics and activists had likened the move to “a police state” and civil liberties lawyers had said it raised constitutional questions.
Davis today said the decision to restrict access to the area “was not made lightly,” but was necessary to conduct a full investigation.
“I would much rather endure a predicted conversation with the ACLU about that decision than endure a conversation with Detective Suiter’s wife about why we didn’t do everything we could do to identify the person who murdered her husband,” he said.
Davis declined to say specifically what brought police back this morning to Harlem Park or what they found, but he offered an explanation for why it took four days before an autopsy was conducted.
“Detective Suiter was an organ donor,” Davis said. “That’s why it took a day or so longer than usual.”
He said that as a result of the autopsy, Suiter’s death was formally ruled a homicide by shooting.
Asked today if Mayor Catherine Pugh planned to issue a statement about the controversial lockdown, spokesman Anthony McCarthy said she would not make a comment.
“We will not move in front of the police department as this investigation goes forward,” McCarthy said. “She wants to get it right, and it’s very, very important.”
But yesterday police announced that the crime scene was to be “cleared.”
As promised, most of the yellow tape had been removed by early morning, and the only roped-off area was the patch of alley behind the 900 block of Bennett Place where the 43-year-old Suiter was shot.
But as the day wore on, word then spread quickly that the perimeter was being set up again.
By noon, a scrum of television crews, held back at the Schroeder Street intersection, watched as uniformed officers and detectives in overcoats returned to the scene.
They picked their way past a memorial to the slain officer – American flags planted in the ground and teddy bear leaning against a rowhouse – and disappeared from the media’s view.
At one point, the officers let a group of people, local residents presumably, pass through the cordoned-off zone and proceed east on Bennett Place. In an apparently unrelated matter, a city ambulance took away a resident who had fallen.
Details on Ballistics and a Raid
Davis said today he is “very encouraged” by the recovery of new evidence. But with no arrests made so far, reporters pressed him to offer a progress report and clarify some murky details.
Asked to confirm an earlier statement that all the shots fired appeared to have come from Suiter’s gun, Davis answered this way:
“All the shell casings that we discovered have been ballistically matched to his firearm,” he said. “But there are other types of ballistic evidence that can be recovered from a crime scene.”
Davis initially described the shooter as a black man with a black-and-white jacket, but declined to elaborate today, saying tipsters are providing descriptions of the suspect that police are not ready to share.
He also declined to say what Suiter’s partner, who has not been identified, told investigators he had witnessed.
In response to a question about a raid near the crime scene, on the 700 block of Dolphin Street, Davis said police detained, questioned and released two people in connection with the Suiter case.
Davis returned again to questions about the scale and scope of the official response to Suiter’s killing, including an apparently unprecedented $215,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator.
“Any loss of life is unacceptable,” he said ,”but society says, in particular, a murder of a police officer is unacceptable.”