Police officer shot in training exercise at former hospital site

A University of Maryland campus police officer was critically wounded Tuesday after being shot in the head by an instructor during a training exercise with Baltimore police, an incident that prompted the city's police commissioner to suspend all training pending a safety evaluation.

The officer was hit around 2:30 p.m. at the Rosewood Center, a closed state psychiatric hospital in Owings Mills. State police said it was reported as an accident but officials released few details — including why live rounds were being used in a training environment — citing an ongoing investigation.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts spent hours at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center with the officer and told reporters at a news conference after 9 p.m. that "I probably have more questions than you have."

"It's going to take time to get answers to those questions because, for me, it's unacceptable," Batts said. "We're going to take the time to dig to make this better so we don't have this happen again."

Batts said he had suspended all police academy operations and training programs pending a safety review. He said he would have his agency's internal affairs unit as well as the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission conduct reviews in addition to the state police probe.

The officer was not identified at the request of his family, but Chief Antonio Williams of the University of Maryland, Baltimore police force said he was in his 40s and had been hired in July. It was his first police job, Williams said.

Officers from smaller agencies commonly take part in training with larger police forces to conserve resources.

Thomas Scalea, the physician in chief at Shock Trauma, said the officer was in stable condition at 9 p.m. "But any thoughts or predictions about ... neurological outcomes are way, way premature," he said.

A second officer, a member of the city force, suffered minor injuries from broken glass related to the shooting, said Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

City Councilman Brandon M. Scott, vice chairman of the public safety committee, said he would call on police officials to explain the incident. Scott said he was dismayed to see another officer wounded in the wake of the deadly friendly fire shooting of Officer William H. Torbit Jr. outside the Select Lounge nightclub in 2011.

"It's an unspeakable tragedy, but there are a lot of questions that need to answered," he said of Tuesday's shooting. "I will do everything in my power that we find out what happened and that something like this never happens again."

State police are leading the investigation because it took place in a state facility, owned by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Robert F. Cherry, the police union president, was at the hospital but referred questions to a union attorney, Michael Davey, who said the shooting was a "tragedy for the department and everyone involved. The Police Department will do a very thorough investigation." They declined to identify the training instructor, who police said is suspended pending the review of the incident.

Retired Lt. Col. Michael Andrew, who oversaw the city's SWAT teams, said live ammunition is rarely used in any training scenario. Most guns used in training are distinguished by red handles and have no magazines or firing pins. In classroom settings, he said, "They won't even let you in the building with a loaded weapon."

Andrew said his SWAT teams trained weekly in a former city maintenance shop.

"They weren't using live ammunition," he said. "They would painstakingly make sure everything was unloaded and simulate live ammunition."

Police would not offer any details about Tuesday's training exercise, saying that information was part of their investigation. In recent years, police have described using "active shooter" training exercises in which officers use so-called "simunition" bullets similar to paintballs.

Simunitions are fired from a standard handgun and explode on impact. They allow officers to practice in realistic situations, often in abandoned buildings.

The former Rosewood Center dates to 1888 and once housed as many as 3,000 patients with developmental disabilities. Its population dwindled to 166 residents by 2010, when Gov. Martin O'Malley ordered its closure. Most of the remaining residents were relocated to group homes.

State troopers, Baltimore County police and Baltimore City police milled in a parking lot in front of a low brick building on the campus Tuesday afternoon.

Sonya Boyce, a private security guard who watches over the abandoned buildings, said police told her only that there had been an accident. Boyce said a number of agencies train at the facility, but that she had never seen city officers there until recently.

In the early afternoon, Baltimore County police cruisers blocked the cracked concrete roads that link the eerie abandoned buildings that once housed patients. Later, Baltimore County police left and were replaced by state troopers. Shortly before dusk, a Baltimore police minibus left with trainees wearing uniforms that consisted of a tan shirt and dark pants.

The property, which includes 178 acres and more than 30 buildings constructed in the late 19th century through the 1960s, has been up for sale. Stevenson University had expressed interest in purchasing the land near Reisterstown Road.

However, concerns have been raised over costs to remove hazardous materials, including lead, asbestos and PCBs, toxic chemicals from coal ash dumping and leaking oil tanks.

While no local agencies have reported police trainees being injured during training exercises in recent years, a Baltimore fire recruit died during a live burn exercise in 2007 at an abandoned rowhouse on South Calverton Road.

Racheal M. Wilson's death halted live burn exercises in the city. and Howard and Montgomery counties temporarily banned the training exercises. Wilson's death also resulted in a top fire official losing his job.

Investigations into the training found the house was unsafe and that more than 30 national safety standards were not followed during the planned blaze.

Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.