Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
BALTIMORE (AP) — A lawyer for two men whose federal convictions were recently overturned is raising fresh questions about an April 2010 incident that led to their convictions on bogus drug charges and involved a Baltimore detective fatally gunned down last month just as he was set to testify before a grand jury investigating indicted police colleagues.
Attorney Steven Silverman represents a pair whose federal convictions were vacated Monday by a U.S. judge after they spent years in prison based on 2010 police work done by a group of allegedly corrupt officers.
He asserts that Detective Sean Suiter, then an officer, was driving an unmarked vehicle that intentionally rear-ended a car of one of his client's. Suiter was among a group of officers dressed in black, wearing face masks, and showing no visible badges during the April 2010 incident, Silverman alleged.
A high-speed chase ensued, ending with the fatality of an 87-year-old man when client Umar Burley's car slammed into another vehicle. A state court convicted him of manslaughter in the death.
Burley said he thought the masked figures were criminals trying to rob him. "I felt like I was in imminent danger and I took off," he said in a Tuesday phone call.
He and Brent Matthews were convicted on federal drug charges when Wayne Earl Jenkins, an indicted member of a disbanded Baltimore police unit, allegedly planted heroin inside Burley's crashed car.
Earlier this month, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis revealed that Jenkins allegedly duped Suiter into discovering the cache of heroin he planted in Burley's car during that 2010 arrest. He made the announcement on the same day that a new five-count indictment against Jenkins was announced by the acting U.S. attorney and Baltimore's FBI special-agent-in-charge.
Davis has told reporters that Suiter was "not involved in any way, shape or form" in the deception. He has stressed that Suiter was a "stellar detective" and federal officials have told him that the detective was "never the target of an FBI investigation."
But Silverman says Suiter's alleged role in the murky 2010 incident involving his clients raises questions about the conduct of all the officers that day.
"It's important to investigate anyone and everyone involved in setting these circumstances in motion," Silverman told The Associated Press.
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Bennett apologized to Burley and Matthews for their wrongful imprisonment on the heroin possession charges. They had both pleaded guilty at the time despite knowing they were innocent, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.
Rumors about Suiter's unsolved Nov. 15 shooting went into overdrive last month when Davis confirmed that the acting U.S. attorney and FBI informed him that the detective was gunned down the day before he was to testify in an ongoing probe of indicted police officers. He was shot in the head with his own gun in a vacant lot while working in a high-crime neighborhood.
The police commissioner has said his department has no reason to believe Suiter's death was connected to his pending grand jury testimony, but he also has stressed that investigators are not ruling out anything. There have been no arrests, despite a $215,000 reward.
On Dec. 1, Davis asked FBI Director Chris Wray for federal agents to take over the unsolved homicide investigation. There has been no public response.
David McFadden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dmcfadd