Baltimore, MD – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced Monday that the residents of Baltimore’s Harlem Park neighborhood have filed a lawsuit against the police department for their treatment during the investigation of Detective Sean Suiter’s shooting death.
The lawsuit alleges that the Baltimore Police Department imposed a “virtual police state” on the West Baltimore residents who lived nearby the area where Det. Suiter was fatally shot in the days that followed his death, WJZ reported.
The lawsuit claims police set up a perimeter and locked down the area in a manner which required Harlem Park residents to show identification at checkpoints or at their homes proving they lived in the area.
The lockdown on the predominantly-black neighborhood lasted for six days following the detective’s Nov. 15, 2017 shooting.
“I really felt like I was in jail. I didn’t feel like I should have to show my ID every time I come to my own neighborhood. Family couldn’t come over. My son couldn’t come home from school- it was just too much going on,” Harlem Park resident Nicole Lee told WJZ.
The lawsuit alleges that residents were “stopped by police, without any individualized suspicion of wrongdoing, any time they came and went from their homes.”
The suit asks the court to declare that the residents’ federal and state constitutional rights were violated, WJZ reported.
It also wants the court to prohibit Baltimore police from ever doing another similar neighborhood lockdown.
The lawsuit calls for the destruction of all the personal information obtained from residents during the investigation and seeks financial compensation for the violation of their civil rights by the Baltimore Police Department, according to WJZ.
“We know that what Baltimore Police did in Harlem Park would not have happened in Roland Park. It’s time for unequal policing in Black and white neighborhoods to stop. There must be justice for families in Harlem Park.” ACLU of Maryland Executive Director Dana Vickers Shelley said.
Residents complained about the inconvenience of having the neighborhood under lockdown at the time, The Baltimore Sun reported.
“This is ridiculous because you can’t go in the house. My kids missed two days of school because they was doing that SWAT thing out here. I can’t take this,” Harlem Park resident Lakeisha McLean told WBAL.
The ACLU raised a hue and cry and questioned the legality of the investigative process of the police department as it was being implemented.
But now-former Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis brushed off complaints, The Baltimore Sun reported.
“I would much rather endure some predictive criticism from the ACLU and others about that decision, than endure a conversation with Detective Suiter’s wife about why we didn’t do everything we possibly could do to recover evidence and identify the person who murdered her husband,” Commissioner Davis said at the time.
Det. Suiter was conducting a follow-up investigation in connection with a 2016 triple homicide when he was shot in the head with his own weapon on Nov. 15, 2017.
His death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner’s office and Baltimore police investigated it as such.
But in August of 2018, an independent review board concluded that Det. Suiter’s fatal gunshot wound had been self-inflicted.
Baltimore police announced on Nov. 6 that they had closed the investigation after a Maryland State Police investigation also concluded that Det. Suiter’s death was a suicide.
Det. Suiter’s family has continued to dispute all assertions that his death was a suicide and have called his murder an “inside job.”
The detective was scheduled to testify in the highly-publicized trial of members of the city’s former Gun Trace Task Force the day after he was shot.