A Baltimore man fired 10 rounds at two city police officers before he was killed in a shootout last month, police said Monday.
The Baltimore Police Department unveiled new details surrounding the police-involved shooting Monday afternoon at a news conference, where interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle and police spokesman T.J. Smith showed body-camera footage from the shooting and discussed the officers’ responses during the incident.
Tuggle said officers Phillip Lippe and Steven Foster fired 30 rounds from their guns during the shootout Sept. 23, killing 29-year-old Nathaniel Sassafras.
Lippe, a three-year veteran of the department, was struck by three bullets; one hit his body camera, another was deflected by his bullet-proof vest and a third nicked his elbow, police said. Footage from Lippe’s camera was destroyed in the shooting.
Lippe and Foster, a five-year-veteran, pursued Sassafras because they thought he was involved with drug trafficking in the area, Tuggle said.
“Those officers were in that particular area doing what I expected and what the public expects, and that’s crime suppression,” Tuggle said. “At the end of the day, we are fortunate, not just as a police department, but as a city, that we did not lose an officer during that shooting,” Tuggle said.
“There was clearly an intent on the suspect’s part to kill this officer. He shot at him 10 times,” Tuggle said.
Video from Foster’s camera showed him driving a police car as Lippe sat in the passenger seat. They followed Sassafras, who was on foot, before getting out of their car in an alley in the 800 block of Vine St.
As the officers get out of the cruiser, Sassafras is lying on his side, on the ground facing them. Tuggle said investigators weren’t sure why he was on the ground, but that he had not been injured. Lippe points at Sassafras with his left hand and orders Sassafras to drop the gun in his right hand. When Sassafras fires his weapon at the officers, Foster and Lippe return gunfire. Tuggle said Sassafras fired the first shot.
Lippe can be heard in the four-minute video yelling, “I’m hit!”
“Lippe’s adrenaline was going,” Smith said. “He didn’t stop. He didn’t give up.”
Foster briefly leaves the alley and attempts to call for backup on his radio, as Lippe continues to fire more rounds at Sassafras. Foster returns to the alley and tries to calm Lippe, telling him, “He’s down.” Sassafras can be seen lying on the sidewalk, facing away from the officers and bleeding.
Foster assesses Lippe for injuries, pulling at his shirt and bulletproof vest. The video shows him telling Lippe to get in the police car. Foster then frantically asks a woman what street they are on, and she tells him Vine Street. She then repeatedly asks him who was shot and tells the officer she has nephews in the area.
“Get that gun away,” Lippe says of Sassafras’ weapon. Foster goes to Sassafras, then returns to the cruiser.
“I’m good. Let the medic get here,” Lippe says.
Tuggle said he did not know how many times Sassafras had been shot.
Smith said the gun recovered from Sassafras has an obliterated serial number and was equipped with laser sights.
A spokesman for the Department of Corrections said Sassafras was paroled Jan. 18 after serving nearly 14 years of a 20-year sentence for a 2004 murder.
In a profile on a friendship and dating website connecting inmates to those on the outside, he wrote that he enjoyed writing poetry and playing baseball, basketball and football.
Tuggle said Lippe was “doing well.” Both officers are on administrative leave.
“This is a traumatic incident,” Smith said. “You’re not coming right back to work the day after something like this happens.”
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