By Justin Fenton
The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE — A suspect taken into custody by Baltimore police in connection with an attempted murder was able to conceal a "high-caliber" handgun and fatally shot himself Tuesday afternoon inside the Southwestern District police station, police said.
Police said they were investigating how the man was in possession of the weapon despite being held for hours at the station in the 400 block of Font Hill Ave. The shooting occurred in a bathroom as the district's officers were in a nearby room for daily roll call.
"Our policy is clear: whenever we transport an individual to the station, it's imperative that for the officers' safety and the safety of the individual that we pat them down and make sure they have no weapons," said Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez, who heads the agency's professional standards and accountability bureau. "This individual was a dangerous individual, and anything short of a thorough search would not be acceptable."
The presence of a gun inside the station posed an immediate risk to officers and others, Rodriguez acknowledged.
"I am very grateful that this individual elected to use that weapon on himself and not engage any of the other officers or civilians inside of the police station," he said.
The man was identified late Tuesday as Tyree Woodson. Authorities said he was 38-years-old and was being sought on an attempted-murder and weapons charge, and had himself been shot in recent days. He was on crutches and was wearing a type of "low-cut walking brace," a police official confirmed.
Rodriguez repeatedly said the suspect was "dangerous" and was affiliated with a gang, though he declined to identify the gang.
Rodriguez said he did not know whether officers failed to search the man. "We need to find out exactly how this occurred, and we will," he said.
City Council Vice President Edward Reisinger said he was "at a loss for words" about the police station suicide and would be contacting the police commissioner.
City Councilman Brandon Scott, the vice chair of the council's public safety committee, called the incident "unacceptable."
"It's clear that not enough was being done to protect not only the officers but the civilians that work in the district," Scott said.
The incident was not the first time someone was able to get a non-police firearm inside a station. In March 2012, a loaded .22-caliber handgun was found by an officer as he was placing a suspect in a holding cell in the Southeastern District station.
Police have not disclosed any findings of that investigation.
Rodriguez, a 30-year veteran who joined the city force after a career in Los Angeles, said that "unfortunately, there are examples where weapons are found — in holding cells, in the back of police cars.
"What that tells every officer is, 'You can't be complacent.'"
It is also not the only case to raise questions about procedures in secure facilities. Last fall, someone was able to swipe drugs from a counter in the department's evidence control room in headquarters. And last month, police said a gun that had been seized off the streets and was supposed to be destroyed was found inside the home of a recently retired commander arrested in a domestic-violence case.
On Tuesday, officers from the regional Warrant Apprehension Task Force, which is led by the city force, made contact with the suspect at 10:50 a.m. and took him into custody, Rodriguez said. Police had him in a holding cell and officers were searching his home, where they recovered a "high-powered weapon."
At around 2:45 p.m., the man asked to go to the bathroom and was escorted there, Rodriguez said.
"The individual went into one of our bathroom stalls, at which time a round was fired from within the stall," he said. "Our immediate findings based on evidence, based on blood spatter, based on trajectory, it appears that this was a self-inflicted wound by a weapon that did not belong to the Police Department. It appears to be a weapon that he brought into this environment."
Police said they had requested the assistance of the state's attorney's office and had assigned investigators from their Force Investigation Team, which handles high-profile cases typically involving use of force.
At the district police station, crime scene tape marked off the entrances to the rear parking lot, though officers appeared to be moving freely in and out of the building. Later, a van from the chief medical examiner's office arrived.
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts visited the scene but did not address reporters.
Scott said the incident showed that the agency's facilities are in poor shape. For example, the Southwestern District was built in 1957.
While police headquarters has a front entrance metal detector, the district stations do not. Some of the stations do not use their front entrances, although the lobby of the Northwestern District station reopened recently after community-funded renovations.
Elsewhere, officers, suspects and the general public all enter through the back of the buildings.
"The facilities themselves are in such disarray, we don't have the same protections that other jurisdictions have," Scott said.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2014 The Baltimore Sun