Original illustration by Lenny Miller/Coffee or Die.
The night of Nov. 15, 2017, was cold and brisk on the streets of West Baltimore. Two detectives canvassed the 900 block of Bennett Place near Fremont Avenue, investigating a triple homicide that took place a few years prior. What appeared to be a typical night on the job turned into something much more harrowing as the evening sky grew dark. Two detectives were on the scene, but only one would live to see the next morning.
A 911 call was placed at 4:36 PM by Detective David Bomenka, a junior homicide detective of the Baltimore Police Department. His frantic call indicated that his partner on the case, Detective Sean Suiter, had been shot and needed immediate assistance. In less than 24 hours, Suiter was pronounced dead at the University of Maryland Medical Center — but the questions of that fateful afternoon continue to haunt the residents of Baltimore.
Suiter was an 18-year veteran homicide detective with a golden reputation amongst his peers. The Washington, D.C., native was a dedicated husband and devoted father who made it his life’s mission to better the streets of Baltimore. The shock of Suiter’s death stunned the city as details began to emerge surrounding the investigation.
The most shocking revelation of all?
Suiter died the day before he was scheduled to testify in a federal case, indicting eight officers of the Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF). The task force was set in place to monitor the overwhelming amount of gun violence plaguing the streets of Baltimore. Instead, the involved officers used it to glorify their power by robbing citizens, wrongfully planting fake evidence, and time theft — clocking in when they weren’t working. Suiter was involved in a 2010 arrest made by members of the GTTF, who knowingly planted heroin on a suspect. Suiter was expected to testify his witness account, as he too was misled by the arresting officers during the encounter.
The Baltimore Police Commissioner was quick to rule out any foul play connecting the shooting to Suiter’s upcoming Grand Jury court date, but the city of Baltimore was not convinced.
Bomenka’s recollection of the day also placed doubt in the minds of those close to the case. He claimed that Suiter had spotted a suspicious person in a vacant lot off Bennett Place. Suiter instructed Bomenka to wait at the corner while he investigated the area. Within minutes, the sounds of gunfire filled the air, and Suiter was on the pavement with a gunshot wound to the head. There wasn’t a trace as to who attacked him.
Suiter’s gun, three shell casings, and the bullet responsible for ending his life were all recovered at the crime scene. The only description of the suspect described an African American male wearing a black jacket with a white stripe. There were no surveillance cameras in the alleyway, no witnesses, and no additional evidence. The case had no leads or persons of interest, leaving the family of Sean Suiter without answers as to who was behind this heinous and deliberate murder.
By early 2018, the case was at a standstill, with all tips investigated and all leads exhausted. In an effort to solve Suiter’s case, the Baltimore Police Department commissioned an independent review board (IRB). The board reviewed the accounts made on the night of his death, as well as the following investigation.
Their findings shocked Suiter’s family, the entire force, and the city of Baltimore as the report concluded that Suiter’s cause of death was not murder after all — it was suicide.
The IRB’s conclusion centered around Suiter’s upcoming court date, leveraging his testimony against the GTTF as the sole reason he would take his life. They also argued that the fact that he was shot with his own gun posed enough evidence for suicide as Suiter was well-trained in self-defense and was proficient in using and disabling his service weapon. Despite Bomenka’s statements indicating Suiter was approaching a suspicious person, there was no indication that anyone else was with Suiter in the vacant lot on Nov. 15, 2017.
This new finding was met with controversy. The medical examiner who conducted Suiter’s autopsy, as well as Baltimore’s city attorney, cast doubt on the report’s cause of death. The Suiter family also rejected the claim, as did their family attorney. They argued that not enough had been done during the investigation, including full testing on the weapon used, which contained DNA from Suiter and a partial strand from an unknown assailant.
Despite efforts made on behalf of Suiter’s family, friends, and attorney, the Baltimore Police Department accepted the IRB’s findings. In November 2019, just days before the second anniversary of his death, Suiter’s case was closed and his cause of death was ruled as suicide.
Suiter’s family has continued to publicly criticize the handling of the case, believing his death to be the result of an inside job. As of May 2020, there have been no additional findings, coverage, or information to support their claim. All that remains is the memory of a hard-working detective, dedicated father, and devoted husband whose too-short life made an incredible impact on his community and on those who loved him.
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