The independent panel appointed to review the death of a Baltimore homicide detective, Sean Suiter, has concluded that the officer likely took his own life, according to an attorney for his widow.
Paul Siegrist, an attorney for Nicole Suiter, said his client was informed of the determination last week.
“She is shocked by their conclusion,” said Siegrist, who said he would offer additional commentary after having a chance to learn the details.
It is not clear how the board reached its conclusion, and a spokesman said there was no timetable for the report’s formal release. The chair of the panel, James “Chips” Stewart, said he could not comment because the report was still being finalized.
Contrasting opinions about the case had been swirling within the Baltimore Police Department since early in the investigation, even as the state medical examiner’s office ruled his death a homicide. Some believed the evidence pointed to his death being a suicide staged to look like a killing, while others said that theory strained credibility and was a convenient out for an agency struggling to solve the death of one of its own.
Suiter was fatally shot in November while conducting follow-up investigation on a triple homicide in West Baltimore. Police locked down the surrounding neighborhood of Harlem Park, and a reward for Suiter’s killer reached more than $200,000.
Police said he was shot with his own gun, and the Baltimore Sun first reported in March that body camera footage from the first responding officers showed the weapon was found under Suiter’s body. Suiter had been shot behind the ear, with the bullet traveling forward.
His death occurred the night before Suiter was set to testify before a grand jury investigation into corruption allegations involving a member of the police department’s Gun Trace Task Force. In 2011, Suiter had taken part in an arrest in which federal prosecutors now say drugs were planted on a man who fled the officers and got into a deadly crash. Then-Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said he was told by federal authorities that Suiter was not a target of that investigation.
Investigators never recovered DNA or fingerprints of a suspect. Davis said there was evidence that Suiter had been engaged in a “violent struggle.”
“There are probabilities and possibilities,” Davis said at a news conference last year. “Any time we have an investigation like this we have to examine every possibility. . . . But based on our evidence and based on the investigation that pursues that particular possibility, there is no evidence that [suicide] was probable.”
Suiter was with a partner, Detective David Bomenka, who is on video ducking behind a tree across the street from where the shooting occurred. The panel to review the case was appointed by then-Commissioner Darryl De Sousa, who later would step down after being indicted by federal prosecutors on charges of failing to pay taxes.
The panel is headed by Stewart and James “Chip” Coldren Jr., who work for CNA Consulting in Arlington, Va. Stewart served on previous independent panels that looked at controversial Baltimore cases, including the 2011 “friendly fire” shooting outside the Select Lounge that killed Officer William H. Torbit Jr. Stewart also led the panel that reviewed the 2013 death of Tyrone West in Baltimore police custody.