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Baltimore police officer shot dead the day before he was to testify against fellow officers

Sean Suiter was killed in Baltimore on Wednesday.

Mourners file into a funeral for Baltimore Police Det. Sean Suiter at Mount Pleasant Church in Baltimore,
Mourners file into a funeral for Baltimore Police Det. Sean Suiter at Mount Pleasant Church in Baltimore,
Image: Patrick Semansky/AP

THE DEATH OF a Baltimore homicide detective shot in the head with his own gun two weeks ago has transformed into a frenzy of speculation.

The unsolved shooting of Detective Sean Suiter is the talk of Baltimore, where residents are dissecting details of the case in offices, on street corners and on social media.

It’s a homicide investigation, but the version of events offered up by police brass is being increasingly questioned since it came to light that the detective was shot a day before he was set to testify before a federal grand jury probing an elite unit of indicted officers.

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has emphasised that Suiter, whose Baltimore-area funeral procession closed down major roads this week, was not the target of any federal probe and by all accounts was a “stellar detective”.

He said he understands the “wild possibilities”, but stressed that the evidence refutes any notion that the murder in a high-crime neighbourhood was “part of any conspiracy”.

“There’s no path that we won’t go down if evidence takes us down that path. But right now, the evidence that’s available to us is indicative of a homicide,” Davis said.

But with the revelation of Suiter’s planned testimony and no arrests even with a $215,000 reward, there appears to be no end in sight to the rumour mill in a city where police officers have had a tense relationship with the majority-black population for decades.

Baltimore and the Justice Department entered into a reform agreement earlier this year after a scathing federal report outlined widespread police misconduct and abuse.

“For all the years these cops have been running around here, they can’t catch this guy they say took out one of their own? I don’t believe what they’re saying,” said Mike Williams, a resident of the blighted Harlem Park neighbourhood as he watched a TV crew set up by the lot where Suiter was shot while investigating a 2016 triple homicide.

The community was on lockdown for days as investigators scoured for evidence and searched the area’s numerous dilapidated, boarded-up homes.

Thousands of mourners, including numerous law enforcement officials, gathered at a church to honour Suiter and his grieving family. Mayor Catherine Pugh said the killing “leaves a stain on our city” while Governor Larry Hogan said the detective “lived and died a hero”.

Rumours about Suiter’s killing went into overdrive last week when Davis confirmed that the acting US attorney and FBI informed him that the detective was gunned down the day before he was to testify in an ongoing probe of a specialised gun recovery unit.

Eight indicted Baltimore officers, including four who have pleaded guilty to racketeering, are accused of defrauding their department, falsifying evidence and shaking down citizens. The same week Suiter was shot, a Philadelphia officer became the ninth officer indicted in the probe of Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force.

Peter Moskos, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who served as a Baltimore police officer from 1999 to 2001, said he believed that imaginations were mostly running wild. The timeline of events in the case seem to fall “somewhere between standard operational chaos”, he said.

But the fact that Suiter was due to testify appears to be “a hell of a coincidence”, he said.

Investigators recovered Suiter’s weapon, which had been fired three times. Police say they only have the barest outlines of the shooter: a man wearing a black jacket with a white stripe. They believe the attacker might have been wounded and have searched emergency rooms and doctors’ offices.

There are many in Baltimore who have a hard time believing the official version of events about Suiter’s end.

“I feel very bad for this man, his family. But it’s also like this where I come from in El Salvador: the story that gets told is not so much the real story,” said Toni Sanchez, who lives near the lot where Suiter became Baltimore’s latest body to fall in a year that has seen so many.

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Associated Press

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