Baltimore officer was killed with his own gun, police say

A Baltimore homicide detective was fatally shot in the head with his own gun after a struggle with his killer last week, the city’s police commissioner said Wednesday.

Sean Suiter, an 18-year department veteran, was investigating a killing in west Baltimore on November 15 when he saw a man exhibiting suspicious behaviors, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said. Suiter died the next day at a hospital.

No arrest has been made in the killing.

Suiter was to testify before a grand jury the day after he was killed, Davis said. The grand jury is looking at a case involving several Baltimore officers who were federally indicted in March.

In an apparent attempt to address speculation about a connection between Suiter’s killing and his pending testimony, Davis said the Suiter and his partner were not lured to the scene of the shooting and made a “spontaneous decision” to investigate the suspicious man.

“It certainly makes for great theater,” Davis said. “We have a police officer who’s shot and killed and we don’t have a really good description, and we don’t have someone in custody — and lo and behold … I found out after the fact that he was scheduled to testify in front of a federal grand jury.”

Davis added: “I understand the speculation that exists. … It’s our responsibility really to follow the evidence and there’s no evidence whatsoever.”

In March, seven Baltimore officers, members of the department’s Gun Trace Task Force, were accused in a federal racketeering indictment of robbing people, claiming fraudulent overtime and filing false affidavits.

Davis said federal officials told him “in no uncertain terms” that the 43-year-old father of five was not the target of any ongoing criminal investigation.

“There is no information that has been communicated to me that Detective Suiter was anything other than a stellar detective, great friend, loving husband and dedicated father,” Davis said.

The officers first saw the killer acting suspiciously about 20 minutes before Suiter’s fatal encounter, police said.

Davis said Suiter struggled with his killer, making a brief call on his police radio at the time of the killing, Davis said. Suiter’s clothing indicated he and the killer had struggled, Davis said.

The officer was found with the radio still in his hand, the commissioner said.

“It’s unintelligible right now,” Davis said of the radio call. “We don’t know exactly what he said but he was clearly in distress,” Davis said, adding that the FBI is working with the department to enhance the radio transmission.

There was also the apparent sound of gunfire in the background of the radio call, Davis said. Suiter’s partner, also a detective, took cover across the street and called 911 when the gunfire erupted, Davis said.

Suiter was shot in the head at close range, the police commissioner said. The officer’s DNA was found on the fatal round recovered from the scene, Davis said.

The reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Suiter’s killer has grown to $215,000.

Earlier in the week, Davis said he believed the killer was still in the city and he may be wounded.

Suiter’s funeral is scheduled for November 29, Davis said.

Vice employees are bracing for more after sexual harassment report

There are storm clouds encircling Vice Media.

As allegations of sexual misconduct pile up in the worlds of media, entertainment and politics, the Brooklyn-based company — a multimedia juggernaut eying an IPO — appears to be staring down an inevitable reckoning.

Last week may have offered a preview of what’s to come. A piece published by the Daily Beast examined Vice’s “sexual-harassment culture,” and implicated a high-profile producer at the company.

That story led to a suspension for Jason Mojica, Vice’s lead filmmaker and former editor-in-chief, who was said to have dismissed complaints about sexual harassment and to have made inappropriate comments. Mojica did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNNMoney.

The Daily Beast’s reporting only heightened the sense of dread consuming Vice’s journalists.

Conversations with 10 employees in the company’s television and digital departments — a mix of reporters, correspondents and editors — revealed a sinking sense of morale at Vice’s Williamsburg headquarters. There is an assumption that the claims in the Daily Beast story will not be the last. Many of those same Vice employees said the company’s leadership has exacerbated an already-tense situation. And some female staff members lamented how awkward it’s made the current news cycle.

“It feels stupid to be reporting on harassment and assault when we all feel embarrassed by how Vice is handling this,” one reporter said.

The company’s actions following the Daily Beast’s story last Wednesday did little to alleviate the anxiety among staff.

Members of Vice’s editorial union responded forcefully to the story, issuing a statement saying they “have been vocal in our concerns about gender equity and ensuring our workplace is an environment in which everyone feels safe, respected, and valued, and will continue to demand that the company recognize and respond to these concerns in full.”

But the response from Vice leadership made matters even worse, according to multiple employees who spoke to CNNMoney.

The internal frustration reached a fever pitch on Friday, when Vice held its latest “state of the union,” highlighted by a 45-minute pre-recorded video package featuring co-founders Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi, along with other executives. Appearing with other employees, they discussed various matters and concerns, but sexual harassment and misconduct were left unaddressed.

Coming on the heels of the Daily Beast story — and facing the specter of perhaps more damning exposés — the video, shot months in advance, left many at Vice infuriated.

Some employees left the Brooklyn office in disgust, according to multiple sources.

“Even for Vice,” one editor told CNNMoney, “the whole thing was astoundingly tone-deaf.”

In a dramatic moment first reported by The Daily Beast and confirmed to CNNMoney by someone who witnessed it, one Vice employee stood up during the video and asked forcefully when the video was going to address sexual harassment. The audience gathered applauded.

Smith, Vice’s CEO, tried to smooth things over in an email to staff later on Friday.

“My apologies for the Friday evening note, but I wanted to address some of the feedback we have been getting on today’s State of the Union,” Smith said. “While we attempted to cover a wide range of issues impacting the company, I’m sorry that we missed the mark, especially when it came to clearly addressing issues around sexual harassment at VICE.”

“I’d like to make it abundantly clear here and now: the behavior outlined in the recent Daily Beast article is unacceptable, and the fact that anything like this could happen at VICE is my and my senior management’s responsibility,” he continued. “VICE does not tolerate sexual harassment, abusive behavior, assault or retaliation, and just as we have in connection with the allegations in the Daily Beast, we will investigate and discipline inappropriate behavior of any kind. We will continue to investigate all allegations brought to the company’s attention, enlisting outside independent counsel when necessary.”

On Monday, Smith met with several managers and editors to go over their concerns. According to multiple employees familiar with those conversations, Smith was confronted with questions about the company’s response to the Daily Beast story. One source said that Smith was accompanied in some of the meetings by the attorney Roberta Kaplan, who was tapped to lead Vice’s all-female advisory board that the company announced last week. (The panel also includes feminist icon Gloria Steinem.)

But nobody inside Vice expects the Daily Beast story to be the last probe into the company’s sinister past.

A headline last week at The Awl captured the ominous anticipation: “Where’s The Vice Story?”

The question has been the subject of intense gossip in New York City media circles for weeks, but it isn’t the only one being asked by journalists and executives.

There is another Vice story coming, everyone is certain, and it will detail the company’s history of misogyny. But few seem to know exactly what’s in it. And that includes Vice employees.

“People are very concerned about what’s coming next,” said one reporter.

Another reporter put it a bit differently: “People just want the asteroid to hit already.”

The story — whatever it says — could represent a significant impediment for one of media’s most ambitious upstarts.

Vice has had a meteoric rise since its launch in the mid-1990s as an irreverent magazine.

Today, the company boasts several digital properties, its own television channel and a nightly news program on HBO (which, like CNN, Is owned by Time Warner). In June, Vice fetched another $450 million investment, boosting its reported valuation to more than $5.5 billion. Smith has talked about his plans for “world domination” and to turn the company into “the next CNN.” He has made little secret of Vice’s intention to go public.

But amid all that success, Vice has cultivated a reputation for a misogynistic, “bro-ish” work environment.

In a statement provided to CNNMoney, a Vice spokesperson said the company is committed to improving its workplace culture.

“23 years ago, VICE was founded as a punk magazine that published an unvarnished look at the subversive culture that the founders, the magazine’s contributors and readers were part of,” the statement said. “Since then, the company has transformed into a global media company that operates in dozens of countries and is home to thousands of journalists, producers and content creators.

“However, the company’s evolution has fallen short when it comes to our workplace culture. We acknowledge this failing, which is why we have committed ourselves to making every necessary change to create an inclusive workplace where all our employees can flourish, while being safe and respected.

“Our focus right now is listening to our employees and addressing their needs,” the spokesperson continued. “These changes do not happen overnight, and we have undertaken a number of significant steps over the past year. These include: achieving pay parity by 2018, hiring a new global Head of HR, tightening standards and practices, updating reporting processes for any inappropriate behavior, restructuring and diversifying the company’s board of directors, implementing sensitivity training in the workplace, and forming an advisory board to work with management and employees to evaluate company culture and make any necessary changes. We are also actively investigating all allegations of inappropriate conduct that are brought to our attention.”

The assumption, both within Vice and throughout the broader media landscape, has been that the next story will be published by the New York Times.

HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg reported Tuesday night that Times reporter Emily Steel, who broke major news this year on settlements paid to women who accused Bill O’Reilly of sexual misconduct, has contacted at least one former Vice employee.

A former Vice producer, who was not the source mentioned in HuffPost’s story, told CNNMoney that she and several other women met with Steel in the spring, when her reporting on the story was still in its infancy.

A spokesperson for the Times said the paper does “not comment on what may or may not appear in future editions.” In an email, Steel said, “I can’t discuss my reporting.”

Until she can, Vice employees are forced to wait uneasily.

“I’d say everyone is frustrated with how the company failed and continues to fail to respond appropriately to the Daily Beast story last week,” the editor said. “Given the rumors of what the New York Times story contains, there is overwhelming dread as well. I’ve said to people that the mood is ‘pitch black’ and I think that’s accurate.”

American formerly imprisoned in North Korea burns to death

Police in San Diego are investigating the mysterious death of a man who made international headlines eight years ago when former US President Jimmy Carter helped negotiate his release from North Korea.

Aijalon Mahli Gomes, 38, was found engulfed in flames Friday night in Mission Bay Park. An off-duty California Highway Patrol officer spotted him in a dirt lot and stopped to help, police said.

He was pronounced dead at the scene. A preliminary investigation suggests his death was accidental or a suicide, police said. A final determination will be made when the Medical Examiner’s Office completes its investigation.

Gomes had recently moved from his hometown of Boston to the San Diego area. His death raised questions about his life since his return from North Korea.

He was arrested in North Korea after entering from China. North Korea sentenced him to eight years of hard labor in 2010 and a fine of about $600,000 for illegally crossing its border with China and for an unspecified “hostile act.”

He was freed in August 2010 after Carter helped negotiate his release. Coverage at the time focused largely on Carter and whether he had met reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on the trip, leaving gaps in Gomes’ story. Carter, who has a history of helping thaw frigid Pyongyang-Washington relations, did not make any comments at the time about his trip.

At the time of his arrest, Gomes had been living in South Korea for about nine years, his uncle said in 2010. Michael Farrow said he didn’t know the circumstances of his nephew’s entry into North Korea. But he said it was “not in his character.”

“He did not take things to the extreme. He may have just been trying to peek in and help others and teach them. He had good motives. I know he had good intentions.”

Gomes documented his ordeal in “Violence and Humanity,” a self-published e-book from 2015. According to the book’s author biography, Gomes was educated in Massachusetts public schools before attending Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he earned a degree in English. He pursued a career in education in the suburbs of Massachusetts before moving to South Korea to teach in the rural provinces of Seoul.

Gomes taught English to middle school students for two years before crossing into China, “inspired by his faith and sense of universal equality,” according to the book’s description.

“For nine months he remained detained in a remote prison under strict supervision while friends and family in the United States were kept in the dark about his health and location as tensions peaked in the region, leading him to true tests of hope, faith and humanity,” the book description said.

Gomes appeared to have stayed out of the public eye since his return. During that time, he worked on recovering “from injuries sustained while being incarcerated in North Korea. A portion of his recovery has included therapeutic writing of which his first novel, ‘Violence and Humanity,’ is based [on],” the author bio said.

“Although this autobiography is highly personal and graphic … I pray some good will come from sharing it.”

Ollie the pit bull’s killer believes in animal sacrifices, detectives say

The man who Hollywood Police Department detectives believe beat, stabbed and trapped a pit bull named Ollie inside a blue suitcase was behind bars Wednesday. 

Brendan Evans, 31, was charged with aggravated animal cruelty. Police officers said he had claimed to practice voodoo and believed it was his religious right to kill a duck if he wanted to.

In his apartment, Hollywood detectives found an 8-pointed star on a kitchen wall. There was a shrine with candles. and pieces of the Crime Stoppers’ flyer showing a picture of Ollie.

“We were all pulling for Ollie to survive, but unfortunately he didn’t make it,” Acting Chief Chris O’Brien said in a statement. “However, due to our investigation, we are no able to provide justice for Ollie.”

Animal activists recognized Evan Wednesday night. They had been searching for evidence of reports that he had been sacrificing kittens. They used social media to distribute his photo anonymously earlier this year. 

Miranda Grossman, a spokeswoman for the department, said detectives searched Evans’ apartment at 1935 Lee St., on Nov. 14.  It was about a month after a couple saw a dog’s paw was sticking out from the suitcase and called police.  

Officers rushed Ollie to the VCA Hollywood Animal Hospital, where veterinarians learned he had been stabbed more than 50 times.   Animal lovers from all over the world pulled together to help Grateful Paws Dog and Cat Rescue to raise funds to help Ollie survive the vicious attack.

When Ollie died at the VCA Hollywood Animal Hospital two days later,  animal lovers were waiting for justice in the case. Linda Ream, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said Ollie remained friendly and sweet until his last day. 

“When he died, there were tears,” Ream said. 

Detectives linked Evans’ DNA to the suitcase where Ollie was found Oct. 10. Evans, who had a history of domestic violence, had been on probation for a bank robbery in Hernando County and detectives linked his fingerprints to a residential burglary. 

“He was taken into custody for the burglary and violation of probation,” Grossman said.  

 After detectives found evidence linking him to the crime, Evans was charged in the animal cruelty case while in custody. He remained at Broward County Jail Wednesday night. 

Democratic rep. says Conyers should resign

New York Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice is calling on embattled Rep. John Conyers to resign from Congress after the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into allegations that the Michigan Democrat had sexually harassed members of his staff.

The allegations against Conyers, Rice said in a statement, are “as credible as they are repulsive. The women who reported this behavior suffered serious professional repercussions for doing so, which is exactly why so many victims of sexual harassment and assault decide not to step forward. If men who engage in this behavior suffered real repercussions, more victims would speak up — and maybe other men would decide to act like decent, civilized adults and not prey on women who work for and trust and admire them.”

She is the first Democratic representative to call on Conyers to leave Congress.

Conyers, who has served in the House since 1965, confirmed Monday that he had settled a wrongful termination complaint in 2015 made by a staff member who had accused him of sexual harassment, a settlement first reported by BuzzFeed News on Monday.

But Conyers said he was “expressly and vehemently” denying any wrongdoing.

In her statement, Rice said, “Whether it happened 40 years ago or last week, settlement or no settlement, Democrat or Republican — harassment is harassment, assault is assault.

“We all know credible allegations when we hear them, and the same is true of hypocrisy.”

Rice’s statement goes far further than House Democratic leaders, who have stopped short of calling on Conyers to resign.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Tuesday that “any credible allegation of sexual harassment must be investigated by the Ethics Committee.” Similarly, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, called the report “very disturbing” and said that an ethics investigation is an “appropriate next step.”

Both Pelosi and Hoyer have also called for sweeping changes to the way allegations of sexual harassment are handled on the Hill, and they support legislation sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, targeting the issue.

In an interview with The New York Times, Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, another member of House Democratic leadership, said he wasn’t sure the claims against Conyers were substantive.

“You can’t jump to conclusions with these types of things,” he told The New York Times. “For all I know, all of this could be made up.”

Multiple requests for comment from CNN were not returned by Clyburn’s office.

Most Democrats have stopped short of calling for Conyers’ resignation, though several have called on him to abandon his position as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Wednesday that Conyers should step down from the Judiciary position.

“No one is exempt from bad behavior, and I think that he’s agreed and I clearly see where Leader Pelosi has said there will be an immediate Ethics Committee, a review,” Meeks told CNN’s John Berman and Poppy Harlow. “I really think that probably the appropriate thing right now is that he should step down as the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and be subject to this ethics investigation.”

Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona also called on Conyers to step down from the Judiciary post, in an interview with C-SPAN.

“As agonizing as it might be for all of us, the ranking member needs to step down at the minimum. Our leader Pelosi asked for that ethics investigation and then the chips will fall from there.”