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Local News

City police address recent uptick in violence, police involved shooting

Julius A. White
(l-r) Baltimore Police Media Relations Chief T.J. Smith, Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle

City police Monday, updated the public on plans to address the recent uptick in violence, and the release of body worn camera footage from a police involved shooting. At a news conference, Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said leave for officers had been temporarily suspended for the next few days as the department looks to beef up patrols after a violent September.

“This is not going to be easy,” said Tuggle. “This situation didn’t get started overnight, it’s not going to be fixed overnight. As we make the adjustments—again it’s not going to be easy, we’ve scrubbed this building for personnel that can be on the street in uniform doing the job.”

Tuggle says officers have been reassigned to serve violent areas and places of potential retaliatory violence.  “We have deployed 527 officers and detectives, 66 sargeants and 20 lieutenants who are currently on the street as we speak,” said Tuggle. Tuggle said the stepped up measures goes to a much larger, systemic issue the police department is having. The Acting Commissioner said they simply don’t have enough police. “That’s the bottom line,” lamented Tuggle. “ There was an apparent pre-emptive warning sent by Tuggle to the Baltimore City Council about payroll sticker shock, something the council has been increasingly grappling with. “[For] all the adjustments that we make, this is going to cost us overtime…it’s going to be an expensive uplift for us. But we have to do it. We’ve got to do something, we just can’t sit back on our hands and let this thing play out. We have to try and get in front of it.”

There were 37 homicides in charm city in September, the highest number of murders in a single month since May of 2017.

Meanwhile, the BPD released body camera footage from an officer-involved shooting near the 800-block of Vine Street last month.  Both officers were wearing and had activated their Body-Worn cameras. One of the cameras was shot and damaged. The camera was sent back to Axon in order to retrieve the data contained on it..Tuggle says officers Phillip Lippe and Steven Foster were pursuing 29-year-old Nathaniel Sassafras on a suspicion of drug trafficking but he refused to drop his gun and fired at the officers who returned fire.  Officer Lippe was wounded by the gunfire while Sassafras was killed. It is unknown how many times Sassafras was actually shot during the shootout with police.  According to Tuggle there was “clearly an intent to kill this officer. [Sassafras] shot at [Lippe] 10 times. The responding officers fired over 30 times in response to that.”  Tuggle said Sassafras fired his weapon first.”

At the time of the shooting, Sassafras was on parole after serving nearly 14-years in prison for a 2004 murder. In the initial hours after the shooting, the acting commissioner did not go into details about how the officers came across Sassafras or how the shooting actually began --only saying that police were out in the Poppleton neighborhood on a crime suppression initiative. During Monday’s news conference, Tuggle said the officers thought he had been involved in drug trafficking in the area; that he was selling drugs in the area. “That’s what they were communicating to other officers in the area.” Tuggle said the exchange of gunfire began when police attempted to stop Sassafras and he ran.

Officers Lippe and Foster remain on administrative leave.  It’s unclear how long they’ll be sidelined. Tuggle said they’ll go through assessments with doctors with respect to the injuries but with the BPD’s health and wellness “folks.”  Media Relations Chief T.J. Smith said although Officer Lippe’s protective vest was not penetrated, it hurts. “This a traumatic incident, said Smtih. “I mean, he’s got bruising and it’s still significant injury. It’s a traumatic situation that we can’t underscore that you’re not coming right back to work after something like this happens. They’re going to off for as much time as they need and get the proper support that’s necessary.”