A campus police trainee accidentally shot in the head during a training exercise remained in critical condition Wednesday while the Baltimore police commissioner suspended training officials and ordered an investigation into how a supervisor came to discharge a round of live ammunition.
The shooting Tuesday happened during a training exercise where no actual ammunition was supposed to be used and at a Baltimore County location that is not one of the department’s customary sites for firearms training, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. One theory investigators are pursuing is that the instructor who shot the trainee inadvertently picked up the wrong gun and fired from it.
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said in an email Wednesday that he’s suspended six training academy leaders, put all training programs on hold through the end of the week and ordered an investigation into the circumstances of the shooting. Maryland State Police are also conducting a criminal investigation.
“We want a minute-by-minute account of what happened from the time these trainees woke up to the time we ended up in the hospital standing over the bed of a gravely wounded police officer,” Guglielmi said.
The shooting occurred at a firearms training center on the grounds of the former Rosewood Center, a now-shuttered state hospital for the mentally disabled in the Baltimore suburb of Owings Mills. Because it happened on state property, state police were investigation and would forward their findings to county prosecutors, Sgt. Marc Black said.
The complex is under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, but Secretary Joshua Sharfstein declined to comment. Guglielmi said police officials were trying to determine who authorized the training because that location “is not one of the normal sites we use.”
Another aspect of the investigation is focused on why the instructor’s gun contained live ammunition when the firearms exercise was to have involved simulated bullets similar to those fired from a paint gun, he said.
The wounded officer is in his 40s and was training to join the police force at the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus, which has about 60 officers. He was in critical condition at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland, but has been responsive.
UMB Police Chief Antonio Williams said he was very concerned that one of his officers, whose name was not released, had been critically wounded in a training exercise.
“We are already evaluating what our next steps will be in terms of where we will send our future police officer trainees,” Williams said.
The shooting is likely to add to the scrutiny already centered on Baltimore police training policies. The department last year announced major changes to use-of-force training after the 2011 death of a plainclothes officer who was shot by uniformed officers as he responded to a report of a fight. Other upheaval included last summer’s departure of the police training director after just months in the position.
“These young people sign up to put their lives on the line when they’re on the street, not when they’re training. The thought of that happening to a trainee is just unthinkable,” said City Councilman Brandon Scott, the vice chairman of the council’s public safety committee. He pledged an investigation.
Ron Martinelli, a forensics criminologist and police practice expert in California, said such shootings aren’t common but do happen several times a year. In North Carolina, a Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy accidentally shot himself in the leg during a 2011 training exercise. Two New Haven, Conn., police officers were injured by shrapnel last March after another officer discharged his weapon in an apparent training accident.
Though the shootings each have unique circumstances, he said, they generally occur because of “complacency, poor safety and a violation of one of the cardinal safety rules. Those rules include always presuming a firearm is loaded and never pointing a gun at anyone else unless it’s been physically and visually inspected, he said.
Preventing such shootings requires better safety precautions, but training without real firearms and ammunitions is not a viable alternative, he said.
“They need to be completely competent and confident in their ability to manipulate a live firearm,” Martinelli said, adding, “You don’t damage the entire academy or your entire training program because you had a mistake. You investigate that, you determine what went wrong and you fix it and you move forward.”