BALTIMORE — The gunshot that killed a Baltimore detective hours before he was to testify in front of a grand jury investigating dirty cops was likely self-inflicted, leaders of an independent review board announced Wednesday.
The panel's unanimous decision is the latest twist in a real-life whodunit that has captivated Baltimore for 10 months. When 43-year-old Detective Sean Suiter was found Nov. 15, dying from a bullet wound to the skull, police and the state medical examiner's office called his on-duty death a homicide. Authorities launched a massive manhunt.
But there was widespread skepticism about the police narrative suggesting Suiter approached a suspicious man in a vacant West Baltimore lot between row houses, got into a struggle and was shot with his own gun. Nobody was ever charged in his death.
In their 207-page final report , the seven-member review board says the evidence they've reviewed "simply does not support anyone other than Detective Suiter himself firing the fatal shot."
Among the evidence: The gun barrel was in contact with Suiter's head when the fatal shot was fired. Nobody else's DNA was found on his weapon. Blood spatter was found inside the right-handed detective's right shirt cuff, indicating his hand and arm were in a high position when the shot was fired.
They also say the autopsy revealed no defensive wounds to support the police narrative that he had struggled with an assailant. Suiter's left hand was clutching his police radio.
"The community should not fear that a 'cop killer' is on the loose," the report states.
During a Wednesday news conference, board chief James "Chips" Stewart said the report offers a "compelling" detailing of evidence.
Acting Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said any reclassification of Suiter's death is up to the medical examiner. A spokesman for the medical examiner has not responded to the board's conclusions.
The panel's report details confusion from the start. They wrote that hospital personnel at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma initially reported incorrectly that the bullet entered the left side of Suiter's skull. Not until four days later did examiners see the entry wound was actually on the right, they write.
By then, the manhunt was ramped up and ex-Police Commissioner Kevin Davis was saying Suiter was shot by an unidentified man in a high-crime neighborhood.
The broad findings suggesting Suiter took his own life were first announced Monday by a lawyer for the detective's widow, Nicole Suiter.
Nicole Suiter blasted the conclusions Wednesday as outlandish. "There's no-one alive who can convince me that the theory that this panel has formulated is correct," she said.
Suiter's funeral drew thousands of mourners. Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said his unsolved killing "leaves a stain on our city," while Gov. Larry Hogan said the detective "lived and died a hero."
When asked Wednesday if she felt she'd been misled, Pugh told reporters: "According to this report, we've all been misled."
New allegations began surfacing months ago about Suiter's past, raising doubts about his integrity. During a federal racketeering trial for two detectives who belonged to a wildly corrupt Baltimore police unit called the Gun Trace Task Force, one indicted officer, Momodu Gondo, alleged he started stealing money with Suiter and other sworn officers about a decade ago.
The disgraced ex-detective's testimony earlier this year wasn't the first suggestion Suiter was once involved in shady dealings. Attorney Steven Silverman represented a man whose federal drug conviction was vacated in December after he spent years in prison based on corrupt police work. Silverman alleged Suiter was among a group of officers dressed in black, wearing face masks and showing no visible badges during the lead-up to the April 2010 incident that led to his client's prosecution.
Former Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa created the review panel, saying a fresh perspective was needed as the force grappled with the fallout from a federal probe into the gun unit. Gondo and another disgraced detective, Maurice Ward, had worked cases with Suiter years before they joined the corrupt squad and ultimately pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
The board's analysis of Suiter's cellphone revealed "substantial deletions," including 75 texts and 313 call log entries. They say Suiter "or someone with access to his phone" deleted Gondo and Ward from his contacts.
The report also said FBI agents attempted to interview Suiter a few weeks before he was shot. They said he declined and was served with a subpoena to appear before the grand jury investigating police corruption. He had an offer of "limited immunity" from federal investigators, they said. The report suggests he likely faced a "difficult choice" concerning the investigation.