“Bullshit. Hell no. The police killed that man.”
So said Kevin Hall and, in more or less those words, so said nearly everyone else interviewed today in Harlem Park.
They were reacting to news reports today that “suicide” is the conclusion of the review panel looking into the death of Baltimore police detective Sean Suiter, who was found fatally shot in this West Baltimore neighborhood last November.
With no official report yet released by the panel, residents were left to continue to speculate that Suiter’s death was part of a larger cover-up of police corruption. Several said they had heard and rejected the suggestions – insinuated in recent months by police sources to the media – that Suiter took his own life.
“Around here, no one believed that [suicide] for a minute,” said Terrell Davis, 29, walking on Franklin Street near the vacant lot at the Schroeder Street intersection where the shooting took place.
“The policeman’s partner set him up. He either did it, or he set him up to be killed by somebody else,” said Hall, 38, expressing a widely held belief in these parts.
“A threat to them”
It’s been more than nine months since Suiter’s death, but this community has not forgotten being cordoned-off and locked down for a week while investigators were, according to police officials, searching for his killer, initially described as a black man wearing a black jacket with a white stripe.
People were asked for identification and prevented from driving or walking back to their own homes. Some were patted down and frisked.
The alleged killer was never found and no arrests were made despite a $215,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
“They messed with us,” Davis said, “but it was only a little more intense than the normal attitude they have to me because of who I am.”
He said he was not surprised by the official conclusion apparently reached by the Independent Review Board convened by then-BPD Commissioner Darryl De Sousa to look into the case.
“That’s just to make everyone be quiet and move on to the next thing and forget about what happened,” he said.
Why would police have taken one of their own?
“He was a threat to them. He had information they didn’t want to come out,” Davis said.
He was referring to the bombshell news that Suiter had been scheduled to testify the next day before a federal grand jury weighing charges against a member of the BPD’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force.
Since it was convened in April, the IRB has conducted interviews with more than 30 people, and has made three visits to the scene of the shooting on Bennett Place, according to IRB co-chair James “Chips” Stewart.
The panel also tracked down “a witness [to the incident] that reconfirmed what they had initially told the Police Department,” Stewart has said.
But those closely watching the case have been tallying up aspects that remain murky.
Why did then Police Commissioner Kevin Davis say he had not been told about Suiter’s impending grand jury testimony – only to be contradicted by federal prosecutors who said they had told Davis about the indictment the day after Suiter was shot?
Why was Suiter transported to the hospital by fellow officers in a patrol vehicle, which then got into an accident on the way to the hospital?
And how could the narrative change so drastically from the first weeks, when the Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Suiter’s death a homicide and police officials spoke so definitively about the shooting as a murder?
“Someone took Det. Suiter’s life when he ran into this alleyway acting as a police officer, trying to accomplish something,” spokesman T. J. Smith told WBAL Radio back in November.
Now a strikingly different scenario has been put forward by a supposedly independent panel.