It reads like a plot from TV’s The Wire: A dedicated Baltimore cop is lured into an alley and shot dead with his own gun the day before he is due to testify against allegedly corrupt colleagues.
But the grieving uncle who raised slain police hero Sean Suiter like a son has pleaded with the public not to leap to conclusions in his unsolved death, telling DailyMail.com: ‘We need to wait for the evidence.’
Detective Suiter was fatally shot in the head on November 16 while he and his partner canvassed the city’s crime-riddled Harlem Park neighborhood for clues to a triple homicide.
Police say the 18-year veteran spotted a man behaving suspiciously and chased him down an alley.
Moments later three gunshots rang out and Suiter’s radio captured his final anguished, unintelligible cry for help.
The married father-of-five had been shot at close range with his own service weapon and died in the hospital the next day – the same date he was supposed to testify before a federal grand jury in a major corruption case involving seven members of the Baltimore Police Department’s now disbanded Gun Trace Task Force.
Police say there is evidence to suggest Suiter engaged in a brief struggle before his death, though detectives have failed to find any trace of the attacker’s DNA, nor any eyewitness to the daylight shooting.
There is only the vaguest description of the prime suspect: an African-American man wearing a black jacket with a white stripe.
The lack of a breakthrough has stoked rumors that the timing of Suiter’s death is no mere coincidence – and that a police department still battling to restore its reputation in the wake of the 2015 Freddie Gray death in custody case, cannot be trusted to investigate it properly.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis earlier bowed to demands to ask the FBI to take over the case in light of the overlap with the federal ‘Broken Boundaries’ probe into racketeering and corruption among his own officers.
But the FBI is still to respond to his request.
However Suiter’s uncle Sherman Basil, 82, has told DailyMail.com in an exclusive interview that he doesn’t care who handles the case as long as they achieve justice for his nephew’s widow Nicole, 41, daughters Zharia and Damira, and sons Sean, Kris and Marquis.
‘Sean and Nicole were so close. She cries every day and she will cry every day for the next 15, 20 years – that kind of hurt doesn’t just go away,’ said Basil.
‘The kids are going to have to draw strength from their mother. They are going to have to learn that he’s not going to come walking in again.
‘I don’t know anything about what Sean was doing that day or what he was going to testify about. But people need to give the police time and they need to focus on the evidence.
‘They have to find this guy that make sure he’s the guy that did this. They need to catch him and lock him up and he needs to stay there.’
Basil pushed back against a line of questioning raised by reporters at a press conference Friday, hinting that Suiter, a US Army veteran, may have somehow staged his own murder.
Commissioner Davis responded by saying there was no evidence he knew of to suggest the decorated officer and grandfather-of-one had shot himself.
‘He would never have committed suicide, absolutely not,’ added Basil. ‘He loved his family too much to do something like that. He loved his kids.
‘He worked like hell to raise them right. Sean was a happy person. How would he have shot himself in the back of the head?
‘He would have had to have had one hell of an arm to do that.’
Suicide would mean his family losing some of their benefits as the survivors of a fallen officer.
Suiter and his late mother Christine went to live with his uncle and aunt Phyllis Suiter at their Washington, D.C. townhouse when he was just a toddler.
He looked upon cousins Kevin, Gary, Timothy and Colleen as siblings and referred to Basil as ‘Pops’ in the absence of his biological father.
‘Sean was small growing up but he loved to play sports with his cousins in the back yard. They watched just about everything, baseball games, the Super Bowl,’ Basil told DailyMail.com.
‘He loved movies, especially Singin’ in the Rain, that was his favorite. He would help people anytime he could. He was a person that never bothered anybody.’
Suiter followed in Kevin’s footsteps by enlisting in the US Army after he graduated from McKinley Tech School in 1992.
He rose to the rank of sergeant and was on active duty until 1998, remaining in the Army Reserves for a further nine years and serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In 1999 he joined the Baltimore Police Department, first as a patrol officer in West Baltimore then later joining the drug unit, city wide shootings, and homicide unit as a detective.
He had recently told Basil he didn’t plan on retiring until completing 25 years in the job because he needed to pay down his mortgage and put his kids through college.
‘When Sean joined the police Baltimore wasn’t such a bad place, it was later on that it got bad and the drugs started coming in,’ Basil said.
‘I didn’t worry about him being out there. Sean grew up in Washington, D.C. back when it used to be called the murder capital of the world. He spent a lot of time in the Army so we all knew Sean could handle himself.
‘He was calm and cool under pressure and he would treat everyone with respect, regardless of who they were, that’s how we raised him to be.’
It was perhaps that aptitude under pressure that saw Suiter thrive in law enforcement despite having to police some of the nation’s toughest neighborhoods.
It also meant that he rubbed shoulders with some of the department’s more uncompromising officers, a small number of whom now stand accused by federal investigators of taking the law into their own hands by planting drugs on suspects and falsifying evidence.
Suiter was due to give evidence in the upcoming trial of former colleague Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, 37, who is alleged to have framed two men for heroin possession in the wake of a fatal police pursuit in April 2010.
According to a court documents seen by DailyMail.com, Jenkins and his partner Ryan Guinn were working undercover at a known narcotics hot-spot when they saw 36-year-old Brent Matthews climbing into a car with a handful of money.
The two officers moved in to make an arrest and Guinn aimed his gun at the black Acura, but the driver, a 39-year-old convicted drug pusher called Umar Burley, sped away.
A brief pursuit ended in carnage when Burley slammed into a Chevrolet Monte Carlo at a nearby intersection and sent it careening into the front porch of a house.
Both suspects were arrested while two people were cut from the wrecked Chevy, including the 86-year-old driver, Elbert Davis – the father of a police officer – who was pronounced dead the same day.
In the aftermath of the crash, it’s alleged that Jenkins conspired to plant 28 grams of heroin, neatly stuffed into 32 individual packets, inside the Acura.
He then directed Suiter, who had just arrived at the scene of the accident, to carry out a search of the vehicle.
According to a federal indictment filed last week Suiter was ‘clueless’ that the drugs he subsequently found had been placed there by his colleagues.
Despite their innocence, Matthews and Burley would later plead guilty to federal drugs charges.
Matthews served 46 months while Burley was also convicted of manslaughter auto and sentenced to 15 years jail.
He spent seven years behind bars before his case was re-activated in August and he was released.
Neither man was prepared to speak to DailyMail.com but a relative of Matthews said of their decision to plead guilty: ‘It didn’t matter that they were innocent, they couldn’t win. That’s how the system works.’
Steven Silverman, an attorney representing Matthews and Burley, said the pair will ‘most certainly’ be filing a civil rights lawsuit when their convictions are officially vacated on December 18.
‘The actions of this rogue police unit caused a death,’ Silverman told DailyMail.com.
‘This was a group of police officers whose modus operandi was to unconstitutionally accost citizens with no legal justification.
‘And because the end result of the jump turned into a fatality they planted the drugs to justify their actions.’
Jenkins remains in custody after he became the highest-ranking of the seven Baltimore Police Department officers indicted on racketeering charges in March.
He faces more than 20 years in prison if found guilty. Detectives Momodu Gondo, 34, Evodio Hendrix, 32, Daniel Hersl, 47, Jemell Rayam, 36, Marcus Taylor, 30, and Maurice Ward, 36, are also facing charges.
Silverman said his clients had ‘no information whatsoever’ on the death of Suiter whose funeral Thursday was attended by hundreds of fellow officers, friends, family members and Baltimore city officials.
On the day of the slaying, Suiter and his partner Det. David Bomenka were in the Harlem Park neighborhood going door-to-door to speak to residents about a triple homicide which happened last December.
Det. Bomenka told investigators they both noticed a man behaving suspiciously in the area but ignored him.
Suiter saw him again 20 minutes later and decided to follow him down an alley towards a vacant lot, according to investigators.
Bomenka claims he then heard gunshots and took cover. CCTV confirms that he took cover over the road before using his phone to call for backup.
He then found his partner in the alleyway with a single gunshot wound to the head. Suiter’s clothes indicated he was involved in a physical struggle and his service gun, found close to his body, had been fired three times.
Commissioner Davis insisted last week he was unaware of Suiter’s involvement in the pending corruption case when he assigned his detectives to probe the suspected killing.
He has also said repeatedly there is no evidence thus far to link the two. However Davis confirmed Friday he had written to the FBI asking them to take the lead in the Suiter inquiry.
‘The circumstances surrounding Detective Suiter’s killing are significantly complicated by the fact that he was to appear before a federal grand jury the following day,’ he wrote.
‘I am growing increasingly uncomfortable that my homicide detectives do not know all of the facts known to the FBI or to the US Attorney’s Office that could, if revealed to us, assist in furthering this murder investigation. I respectfully request the FBI to investigate the murder of Detective Sean Suiter.’
For Suiter’s uncle, the more resources assigned to the case the better. ‘I’ve been in this world a long time and seen some sad things.
‘Myself, I’ll be OK but I worry for the younger generations of the family,’ Basil told DailyMail.com. ‘Sean was a hero. For the sake of his family anyone with information must come forward.’
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Ben Ashford