BPD releases limited details—including IDs of officers and man killed—in Sunday police-involved shootout

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Photo by Elvert Barnes, via Flickr

Baltimore police this morning released a limited update on Sunday night’s police-involved shooting, identifying the two officers–one of whom was wounded–who exchanged gunfire with and killed a suspect in Poppleton in West Baltimore.

The man killed was 29-year-old Nathaniel Sassafras, whose last known address was in the 1900 block of Druid Hill Avenue. The officers were Phillip Lippe, a three-year BPD member, and Steven Foster, a five-year department veteran. Both had been assigned to Western District patrol.

Lippe is the officer who sustained gunshot wounds and was transported to University of Maryland Shock Trauma. He was released from the hospital yesterday, police said in an afternoon update. The city’s police union had shared that the officer was “in good spirits” on Sunday night after he had been shot.

The shooting happened around 6:30 p.m. Sunday night in the 800 block of Vine Street. Acting Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said in a press briefing Sunday night said the officers were there for a crime suppression initiative of which the suspect, now ID’d as Sassafras, was not the target. Police kept an active crime scene in the area overnight before releasing it around 7 a.m. yesterday.

Nearly two days out, the department has not shared specifics on what led up to the exchange of gunfire between the officers and Sassafras. Neighborhood residents told The Sun they heard dozens of shots ring out during the exchange Sunday night.

“We don’t know which officer fired the fatal round,” department spokesman T.J. Smith said in an email Tuesday.

In a statement to press later Tuesday morning, Smith said both officers activated their body-worn cameras before the shootout, but one of the devices had been struck by a bullet and damaged. Police are sending the camera back to its manufacturer, Axon, to retrieve its data.

“We will make the decision to release the footage once we have had an opportunity to review it in its entirety,” Smith said.

Sassafras had been out of prison for little more than half a year. In 2005, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a shooting one year earlier, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with 10 of them suspended. He was also convicted of using a handgun in a violent crime in the same case, and was sentenced to five years concurrent.

While in prison, Sassafras pleaded guilty to assaulting a corrections officer or inmate–court records don’t specify which–in 2010. He was sentenced to an additional year behind bars, which he also served concurrently.

Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections spokesman Gerard Shields said in an email that Sassafras was paroled on Jan. 18 of this year after serving 13 years and six months of his sentence–more than half of the time required for parole under Maryland law.

Poppleton, the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood where Sassafras was killed, has seen a bump in violence recently. Just seven days earlier, two men had been wounded in separate shootings within a four-hour span on the same block.

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod
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