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Slain Baltimore detective was to have testified in case against indicted police officers

Police officers respond to Bennett Place and N. Fremont Avenue in Baltimore after a call went out that an officer is shot on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

Baltimore homicide Detective Sean Suiter was scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury in the case against a squad of indicted officers on the day after he was shot, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said.

The revelation brings together two cases that have sent shock waves through the Police Department and the city as a whole: the federal prosecutions of eight members of the department’s elite gun task force, who are accused of shaking down citizens and conspiring with drug dealers, and the killing of Suiter last week in West Baltimore.

Davis said Wednesday evening that federal authorities have told him “in no uncertain terms” that Suiter was not a target of their investigation into the Gun Trace Task Force. He said authorities have no reason to believe Suiter’s killing was connected to his pending testimony.

“The BPD and FBI do not possess any information that this incident … is part of any conspiracy,” Davis said. He said evidence shows the shooting occurred spontaneously, as Suiter investigated a suspicious person in the Harlem Park neighborhood.

Davis also said Suiter is believed to have been killed with his own service weapon, which was fired at close range, and that there was evidence of a struggle before the shooting.

Police have not identified a suspect or made arrests in Suiter’s shooting Nov. 15. Investigators locked the neighborhood down for several days after the shooting to gather evidence and interview potential witnesses. Authorities are offering a reward of $215,000 for information leading to an arrest.

Police say Suiter and a partner were conducting a follow-up investigation on a triple homicide when he saw someone acting suspiciously in a vacant lot and approached. Suiter was shot once in the head.

He died the next day.

Davis described for the first time surveillance video of the scene. The footage shows Suiter’s partner seeking cover across the street. Davis backed his actions.

“Upon the sound of gunfire, Detective Suiter’s partner sought cover across the street,” Davis said, reading from a prepared statement. “He immediately called 911. We know this, because it is captured on private surveillance video that we have recovered.”

The Gun Trace Task Force was entrusted with executing a key element of Davis’ strategy against the city’s surge in killings: getting illegal guns out of the hands of the assailants who drive the violence.

But a federal grand jury indicted eight task force members this year on charges of racketeering and other violations, and authorities are continuing to investigate allegations related to the squad.

Four officers have pleaded guilty, and at least two of them are cooperating with authorities.

The other four members have pleaded not guilty. They are scheduled for trial in January.

Davis said he was told by federal prosecutors that Suiter was to testify in the case of the indicted officers in relation to an incident from several years ago. It was not clear whether his testimony would be helpful or harmful to the officers.

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(Tim Prudente and Luke Broadwater contributed to this report.)

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© 2017 The Baltimore Sun

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