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Baltimore officer who survived '87 shooting leaves agency

Gene Cassidy, who guided thousands of recruits after losing his sight in a shooting, leaves Baltimore police.

Gene Cassidy, a Baltimore Police officer who lost his sight in the line of duty shooting in 1987 but went on to guide thousands of officers as an instructor, is leaving the agency.

"The Police Department is losing an icon of public service," said former Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.

Cassidy, 55, said his departure after 32 years was triggered by his acceptance of an offer from a federal agency. He declined to specify.

"It's closing one chapter, and one opening another," he said in an interview. "The adventure continues forward."

Cassidy was 27 and had less than four years on the job on Oct. 22, 1987, when he was shot twice in the head while trying to serve a warrant on a suspect charged with beating an elderly neighbor. One of the bullets lodged in his brain, and he was given little chance of survival. He pulled through, losing his senses of sight, smell and taste in the process.

Cassidy went back to school and earned a master's degree, and continued to work for the Police Department. It was important to "return to a sense of normalcy — that means getting up, going to work, and doing whatever you gotta do," Cassidy said.

"I think that was as courageous as fighting back from his injuries," said Lt. Terrence McLarney, who was one of the homicide detectives who investigated his shooting and became a close friend. "I've never heard him complain."

The shooter, Clifton "Butchie" Frazier, was convicted and remains in prison.

The shooting, and Cassidy's survival, made him a legend in Baltimore police ranks and became a storyline in "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets," the book by David Simon, and later a TV series, about crime in Baltimore.

As an instructor, Cassidy influenced more than two decades of cadets who passed through his course at the training academy. He and his seeing-eye dog were a mainstay at graduation ceremonies, where a coveted Gene Cassidy Award is given out each year to the recruit who best demonstrates a commitment to public service.

One of his courses was about surviving a traumatic incident.

"I don't teach it in the sense of it being a 'Woe is me' approach, but more along the lines of 'Stay in the fight,'" he said.

In 2012, Cassidy survived another health scare when he discovered he had end-stage cirrhosis and needed a new liver. Doctors determined he had contracted hepatitis C from transfusions during his treatment from the shooting. He received a transplant just in time.

Before the surgery, Cassidy told his family, "We will win."

Today, Cassidy says, his health is "100 percent, fantastic."

"I'm in the weight room usually every day, doing different exercises," he said.

Just three months after his surgery, he ran a race, as the captain of a running team called "F.O.G." — Friends of Gene.

Cassidy said his wife recently remarked to him that he'd had a "unique career."

"That is so unbelievably accurate," he said. "But I will tell you: It's been a wonderful experience."

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