'Chaotic' scene prevented quick medical attention for shooting victim

The shooting of Kendra Diggs and the subsequent barricade by her alleged attacker presented a challenge Tuesday for police and emergency responders.

Under the threat of further gunfire from the off-duty Baltimore police officer, officials said, they were unable to render medical aid to the dying woman.

"When you have a person who is down … what we're trained on is that you don't jeopardize six or seven police officers in your emotional reaction to save that person," Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said in an interview Wednesday.

It took emergency responders an hour to reach Diggs on the sidewalk in front of the home in Sandtown-Winchester that she shared with the officer accused of shooting her.

Police say they were responding to a report of a domestic disturbance at the home in the 1100 block of N. Parrish St. about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday when her boyfriend, Officer James Smith, opened fire from a second-story window.

The gunfire struck Diggs, 37, a bus driver for the Maryland Transit Administration. The patrol officers alerted dispatchers and ran for cover.

Police assembled a command post blocks away. Tactical officers picked up Diggs about an hour later and took her to an ambulance for transport to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. She was pronounced dead a short time later. Smith surrendered about six hours after the initial shooting, police said.

Sharifah Ahmed, a cousin, wondered why police did not remove Diggs from the area when they first encountered the domestic disturbance.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she expects police to conduct a review of how the incident was handled. But she did not second-guess their decisions.

"You have to take a look at the situation after the fact and see if there were things that we could have done better," Rawlings-Blake said. "But I certainly don't think that the morning after the incident is the time to play armchair quarterback on whether or not it was safe at a time when someone we knew had a gun, [whether] it was safe to move in and put more lives at risk."

In such situations, Batts said, the first 30 minutes to an hour are "chaotic" as police sift through available information.

"It's putting the pieces together and not overreacting," he said.

As police chief in Long Beach, Calif., Batts served on a state commission that made operational and training recommendations for SWAT teams.

Police would not allow medical personnel — who are unarmed — into a scene that police themselves had evacuated.

Baltimore Fire EMS Battalion Chief Charles Cheelsman said fire and EMS personnel sometimes arrive at crime scenes ahead of patrol officers, but in most situations they are taking cues from police.

"Our first priority is to make sure the rescuers don't become victims ourselves," he said. "We have to have some kind of assuredness that there's no imminent life threat to the rescuers."

Adding to the complexity of the situation was that police knew that Smith, a 20-year veteran, had tactical training, and believed he could be listening in on police communications through his department-issue radio.

Tactical officers from Baltimore County were summoned, and a negotiation team that included a psychologist began working to coax Smith out.

"We go back to our training, even more so in this circumstance because the person inside that building knows how we operate," Batts said. "They know the steps we're going to have to take."

Police deployed the agency's armored vehicle — called a "bearcat" — and positioned it between the home and Diggs, Batts said. The vehicle could be observed climbing onto the sidewalk.

In the hours that followed, Batts said, police cut off Smith's cellphone access and tactical officers studied the layouts of homes in the area. Officers ran drills to practice entering in the event that they had to force their way in.

"I wanted them to [repeat the drill] time and time and time again," Batts said. "We had to be clean and understand the layouts of that house."

But it didn't come to that. Smith surrendered peacefully after 9 p.m.

"I have to give kudos to that negotiating team," Batts said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Justin George and Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article


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