The Independent Review Board has released its report on the death of Baltimore Police detective Sean Suiter today, concluding, as sources have told the media in recent days, that Suiter killed himself with his own service weapon.
The 207-page report paints a picture of an officer who was deeply troubled by his impending testimony before a federal grand jury (“he was under more stress than most of us endure,” the report says) and spent the last hours of his life “ignoring his attorney’s calls and texts.”
Suiter had “every incentive” to stage his suicide to make it seem to be a murder, the report says.
The report considers and rejects three hypotheses: That Suiter was killed by an unknown suspect, that he was killed by his partner, Detective David Bomenka, or that he “killed himself accidentally as he fell.”
The suicide hypothesis, the authors write, is supported by “the Bennett Place Video [provided by a nearby resident], body camera video, ballistic evidence, the medical examiner’s autopsy, the absence of any evidence that a third party was present at the vacant lot [and] the eyewitness account of Detective Bomenka, who saw no one in the lot other.”
Davis: Convinced of Homicide
Some parts of the report are graphic. There are photos, from body camera footage, of Suiter’s body face-down in the grass. Lengthy portions of the report dissect matters of procedure, finding flaws in BPD’s investigation, including a failure to set up an Incident Command System.
Police were unable to supply photos of the blood on Suiter’s shirt sleeve. (The IRB obtained the shirt and had photos taken of it.) The lead detective “was not kept informed of material evidentiary developments and investigative activity.”
Most stinging is the critique of then-Commissioner Kevin Davis for being “less than candid with the public on several occasions” and making “public statements that were factually inaccurate.”
In comments to the media in the aftermath of the November 15 shooting, Davis had said police were looking for a suspect with a black jacket with a white stripe and that Suiter in his last moments had been involved in a physical “struggle” with his attacker.
In an interview with members of the IRB quoted in the report, Davis claimed that “while suicide was ‘always on his mind,’ he remained convinced that Suiter was the victim of a homicide.”
“Seeing no one, he fires the fatal shot at contact range with his right hand, which the radio captures just as the transmission abruptly ends with his collapse.” – From IRB report’s reconstruction of the shooting.
Speaking earlier this week with the Baltimore Sun, Davis said he did not meet with the full IRB board because its members include two retired homicide detectives.
“I don’t trust the board because there’s two BPD cops on it,” Davis said.
The “evidence” for the suicide conclusion takes up many pages in the report and will be analyzed widely in the coming days.
As it should be since it is the basis of this vivid reconstruction of the suicide that the authors surmise took place (page 76 of the report):
The Bennett Place Video shows Detective Suiter run into the lot alone at 4:36:10 p.m. Shots occur within seconds. Soldiers and officers are trained to anchor themselves by taking a knee or otherwise using the ground to stabilize a shot.
The evidence is consistent with the following:
1) Suiter runs into the lot in what he knows to be a high crime area;
2) He yells, “Stop! Stop! Stop! Police!” and fires two shots into the air in an attempt to mask that this is a suicide, leaving spent cartridges behind him and to the right;
3) facing south, he gets down on his left knee to brace himself for a fatal shot;
4) leaning forward, he clutches the radio and puts weight on his left forearm;
5) this action causes the radio to activate;
6) he cocks his head back and to the right to make sure that Bomenka has not yet approached from behind;
7) seeing no one, he fires the fatal shot at contact range with his right hand, which the radio captures just as the transmission abruptly ends with Suiter’s collapse;
8) the bullet penetrates the skull immediately, expelling blood into the inside of Suiter’s right sleeve and into the gun barrel;
9) Suiter collapses the remaining distance to the ground (he was already on his knee and forearm on the left side);
10) causing Suiter to fall on top of his gun, still holding the radio, as the remnants of the fatal bullet burrows several inches into the ground to Suiter’s left. The two spent cartridges are below and to the right of Suiter (which is where a Glock would discharge the cartridges of a right-handed gunman shooting into the air while moving south) and one is to the south of Suiter, reflecting the changed gun position of the fatal shot.
The authors end their report on a note of reassurance.
“The community should not fear that a ‘cop killer’ is on the loose,” they conclude. “The homicide detectives who worked so diligently should not be considered unsuccessful in failing to find a non-existent killer.”