Late last month, a Baltimore Police detective investigating the shooting death of a popular 19-year-old high school student wrote to top homicide commanders that she’d cracked the case.
Det. Jill Beauregard-Navarro laid the blame for the March 2017 death of Victorious Swift on a 44-year-old man named Charles Frazier. Frazier had told several people that he had gone to rob Swift, the detective reported, and that Swift, a boxer, had started to fight back. She said Frazier, “in a panic,” shot the teen and fled.
The catch: Frazier himself was also dead, his body found less than two months after Swift’s killing. Beauregard-Navarro was asking commanders to add Swift’s killing to the growing list of cases the department considers “closed by exception” — those in which police believe they have enough evidence to arrest, charge and prosecute a suspect, but can’t for reasons beyond their control, such as the suspect’s death.
The process, recognized by the FBI and used by police departments nationwide, typically unfolds out of public view. In Baltimore, where violence is driven by retaliation-fueled gun battles, it’s unfolding more frequently: The number of cases closed by exception has more than tripled from 11 in 2014 to 34 in 2017.
Police say the fact that a suspect in one case might be the victim in another is hardly surprising in Baltimore, where street justice can catch up to a trigger-puller faster than a police investigation.
Maj. Chris Jones, the commander of the department’s homicide unit, said the growing number of homicides in the city — there have been more than 300 in each of the last three years — means there are simply more cases in which suspects are dead.
With so many killings to investigate, he said, the department could decide to spend all its time investigating those cases in which it believes the suspects are still at large, but he refuses to let that happen under his command.
“I just truly feel that the family in a case where the suspect has been killed deserves answers as much as the family of a victim in a case where the suspect is still running around,” he said.
Swift’s mother said she appreciated police pursuing justice in her son’s case through to the end. But she found little solace — and some sadness — in learning the suspect was dead.
“None of it brought Victorious back,” Victory Swift said.
Others, including the families of men such as Frazier, who have been posthumously accused of murder, take issue with the practice. Some say they were never told of the accusations by police, and would have disputed them if they had been.
Frazier’s mother, informed of the allegations against him by a Baltimore Sun reporter, said she was shocked.
Altheria Frazier is still waiting to learn who killed her son.
“Why didn’t they call me?” she asked, lifting her glasses to brush back tears. “It’s unfair.”
The number of cases closed by exception in Baltimore has increased in each of the last four years, data obtained by The Sun through a Maryland Public Information Act request show, from 11 in 2014 to 18 in 2015 to 26 in 2016 to 34 last year. The practice has helped police improve their homicide clearance rate over that time, from 30.7 percent in 2015 to 51.4 percent last year.
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SOURCE: The Baltimore Sun, Kevin Rector