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Wounded Baltimore officer's body camera footage can't be retrieved because camera was shot, police say

A police officer was shot in West Baltimore and taken to Shock Trauma. (Karl Merton Ferron, Christina Tkacik, Justin Fenton, Baltimore Sun video)

Baltimore police are unable to retrieve the body camera footage of an officer who was injured during a shootout Sunday because his camera was struck by a bullet, a department spokesman said.

The department requested that Axon — the body camera manufacturer — attempt to recover the footage from the incident in which officers Phillip Lippe and his partner, Steven Foster, exchanged gunfire with 29-year-old Nathaniel Sassafras, who was fatally wounded.

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Police said Lippe was shot and injured, and his camera was damaged.

“The damage to the camera, which was struck by a bullet, was damaged to a point where the data could not be saved,” police spokesman T.J. Smith said in a statement Thursday.

Police said footage from Foster’s camera also captured the incident. Smith said the department has not yet determined when and how it will release the footage from Foster’s camera.

Lippe was released from University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center earlier this week. Foster was not injured.

Police have not described what led to the shooting, which occurred shortly before 6:30 p.m. in the rear of the 800 block of Vine St. in the Poppleton neighborhood of West Baltimore.

Lippe, a three-year veteran of the department, and Foster, a five-year veteran, were in the neighborhood for a “crime suppression initiative,” interim police Commissioner Gary Tuggle told reporters at a news conference Sunday night. Both are assigned to the Western District patrol.

Tuggle said Sassafras was not a specific target of the operation.

Attempts to reach family members of Sassafras have been unsuccessful.

Police said the shooting remains under investigation. It also is being reviewed by the independent monitoring team that is overseeing a federal consent decree between the city and the U.S. Justice Department. The head of the monitoring team said the team will release its findings publicly at a later date.

The last police-involved shooting in the city was in June when police said officers shot and injured a man who they said was holding a knife in a University of Maryland Medical Center behavioral health clinic. The officers pleaded with the man dozens of times to drop the weapon as he threw chairs and charged at the officers, body camera footage from one of the officers showed.

The department provided an opportunity for media to review footage from one officer’s body cameras a week after the shooting. The department did not name the man or publicly release body camera footage of the shooting, citing privacy concerns. The man was not charged in the incident.

Smith said Thursday that the department has never had a body worn camera damaged in a shooting before.

Axon did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

The city has spent about $18.5 million equipping 2,500 officers with body cameras through Axon, which also provides training, support and maintenance for the program. The contract will run until 2023.

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