A Baltimore police officer who said in an interview that he had received no counseling after he shot and killed two people nine months apart in 2006 and 2007 has been suspended from the force, and stripped of his gun and badge.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the eight-year veteran, Andrew W. Gotwols Jr., made comments that concerned commanders about his fitness to serve. He described the 36-year-old as being "medically suspended."
Gotwols told The Baltimore Sun that he has nightmares that "guys are trying to shoot and kill me, and that I'm trying to shoot and kill them." He said he was nervous in crowded stores, and that he and others are "going through what soldiers experience" returning from war zones.
Guglielmi said that "obviously he's carrying a gun and we want to make sure he's stable and not a threat to him or to anybody else." Gotwols remains on desk duty at the juvenile booking center, but he cannot make arrests.
Gotwols, an eight year veteran who had been assigned to the Southern and later Southeastern patrol districts, declined to comment. But the head of the police union, Robert F. Cherry, questioned the move.
"The officer has been cleared of city physicians to back to work," Cherry said. "He has a clean bill of health, both physically and mentally."
The labor head, a former homicide detective who investigated police involved shootings, said he believed the suspension had more to do with anger within the command chain that Gotwols had spoken out publicly, and criticized the agency.
"I know the department frowns on officers from speaking out," Cherry said. "But I think in this case he was merely speaking the truth, and the truth is the truth."
While police regulations prohibit officers from talking to the news media without prior authorization, Guglielmi denied that Gotwols was being punished for doing so. He said it was what Gotwols said that concerned the department.
Gotwols was interviewed as part of a story on another officer who sued the Police Department in federal court, alleging that he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after fatally shooting a man and didn't receive any help. Read that story here.
Gotwols is not a part of the lawsuit, but said he concurred with the officer who filed it, saying that he too didn't get help after he fatally shot a man running at him with a gun in Pigtown in 2006 and shot and killed another man robbing a Curtis Bay strip club in 2007.
Police commanders have said that all officers involved in shootings cannot go back on the force until they are cleared by counselors or referred to psychiatrists for additional help. Cherry said that the department does a good job offering help to officers immediately after shootings, but not months or years down the road.
On Thursday, Cherry said that instead of suspending Gotwols, the department should use his comments as an opportunity to study the issue and make sure all officers get the help they need.