Commissioner honors officer 'most seriously injured' during Baltimore rioting

Commissioner honors officer 'most seriously injured' during Baltimore rioting

Among the more than 150 police officers injured during April's rioting in Baltimore, Officer Brian Wassum, 47, was likely hurt the worst.

On Friday, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis went to Wassum's home — where he remains on medical leave — to honor him with a special 2015 Service Ribbon.

"He's just a humble, humble guy. He's a dedicated, salt-of-the-earth police officer who can't wait to return to work," Davis said. "That's the first thing he said to me, that he's going crazy and wants to get back to work as soon as possible."

Davis said he told Wassum, a 14-year veteran of the force normally assigned to the Southeastern District, that the department will be happy to have him back once he's recovered.

"He's going through a lot of therapy and fighting his way back," Davis said. Wassum, through the department, declined to be interviewed.

Vikki Powers, the longtime owner of Vikki's Fells Point Deli, said she has known Wassum since he first started walking the beat there — and can't wait to have him back.

"He's a wonderful officer," she said. "Everybody knows Brian. He's part of the woodwork."

The department said it believes Wassum was the "most seriously injured" officer during the unrest, but declined to describe his injuries or how they were sustained in more detail, citing medical privacy laws.

However, some of those details are already known.

Wassum was in a police skirmish line near Mondawmin Mall at about 3:49 p.m. on April 27 — not long after clashes first began between police and mostly-young rioters — when a projectile hit him in the head, according to a Baltimore Sun reporter who witnessed the incident.

An image of Wassum falling backward and bleeding from the head as other officers braced to support him, originally posted online by Sun reporter Erica L. Green, went viral that day, and has since become one of the most cited images from the clash outside the West Baltimore mall.

That clash, which spiraled out of control and onto surrounding streets, precipitated the worst of the rioting, looting and arson that swept across the city that night.

About 155 police officers were injured during that week of unrest, "and many more were involved in intense, high-risk situations," according to an independent review of the department's handling of the unrest by the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank based in Washington.

That report, released earlier this week, and another released this summer by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 — the union that represents rank-and-file officers — both found that officers deployed to Mondawmin and other sites of rioting lacked proper equipment and protective gear, including helmets.

"An officer, while deployed at Mondawmin Mall, reported orders given for no helmets, even after being hit by rocks," the FOP report found.

Police officials have said the department has since spent nearly $2 million on protective gear for officers, and that in any future unrest, street commanders will be empowered to deploy that equipment as soon as is necessary to protect officer safety.

Davis said he talked to Wassum on Friday about what happened at Mondawmin that day, and Wassum told him that he did have a helmet at the time, but did not have a shield and couldn't recall if his helmet had come off at some point.

Davis said the lack of equipment showed "a failure of leadership" that the department has since worked tirelessly to address, but also showed the "individual and collective bravery" of officers like Wassum, who put themselves in harm's way to help the city they serve.

Powers said that after Wassum was injured, people from the neighborhood brought gifts for him to the deli so that she could drop them off to the family.

Wassum stopped into the deli on Thursday for lunch, she said, and told her that he hoped to be back to work by January.

"He's very excited. He's not one to want to sit down," Powers said. "He's just awesome. And he loves his job."

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

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