Md. officer honored for bravery during methadone clinic shooting
Sgt. Bill Shiflett received the department's highest honor after sustaining life-threatening injuries
BALTIMORE — When Sgt. Bill Shiflett arrived at the Man Alive methadone clinic in North Baltimore that midsummer morning in July, one of his men, Officer Chris Miller, told him shots had already been fired inside.
“I looked at him,” Shiflett recalled Wednesday, “and said, ‘Active shooter, buddy.’”
Those words, shared between two cops in America in 2019, carried a very particular weight, and prompted a singular tactical conclusion: They were going in.
There was no time to wait, unless they wanted many more people inside the clinic to be dead by the time it was all over. Shiflett, a supervisor coming off the midnight shift and armed with a rifle, stepped forward to go in first, with Miller and Officer Jeremy Foster right behind him.
Shiflett — who would be gravely injured in the ensuing minutes — kept thinking “two and three quarters, two and three quarters," he said. The front sight on his rifle sits 2 3/4 inches above the rear one, and he knew he had to remember that to ensure a precision shot, if it came to that.
Moments later, as he and Miller moved through the clinic and into a narrow hallway, they were told one victim was already down. And the gunman, later identified by police as Ashanti Pinkney, 49, wasn’t listening to commands. Shiflett could see the handgun in Pinkney’s hand.
“It was time to stop him,” Shiflett recalled thinking. “If me and Chris don’t confront this guy, and if he doesn’t drop his weapon, the potential for him killing other people is nearly 100 percent.”
Shiflett, 51, recalled the events for the first time in detail publicly in an interview with The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday, one day after receiving the Baltimore Police Department’s highest award — the Medal of Honor — for his bravery during the incident.
Police say Pinkney had already shot and killed phlebotomist David Caldwell, 52, of Gwynns Falls, by the time the officers entered the clinic. Body-camera footage showed Shiflett enter the hallway and repeatedly tell Pinkney to drop his gun before advancing toward him. It also showed Pinkney raising his gun and firing toward the officers before an exchange of gunfire back and forth.
Pinkney shot Shiflett below the bullet-resistant vest, and Shiflett and Miller fatally shot Pinkney. Shiflett’s injuries were life-threatening. A woman also was injured, by shrapnel, police said.
Three months later, the office of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is still reviewing the case, as it does all instances in which police officers fire their weapons. It expects to issue a final report, and a determination as to whether the officers’ actions were justified, within two weeks, said Zy Richardson, an office spokeswoman.
Shiflett, a 26-year veteran of the police force and retired Air National Guard member, is still recovering.
He has physical therapy in his near future. The event Tuesday in which he received the Medal of Honor — rarely bestowed upon living officers — was tiring, he said, but nice. He was glad Miller and Foster were also honored, each with the Silver Star. Shiflett also received the Citation of Valor, an honor that goes to officers injured in the line of duty.
His plan is to return to duty, he said.
“Recovery is a little slow. I’ve got some minor complications. I’ve got some numbness on the left side, on my left foot, and some right side weakness,” he said. “But I’m looking forward to coming back.”
And he wouldn’t change a thing about how he responded that day in July, he said.
“There’s nothing I could have done different,” he said. “You can’t back out and wait. ...There’s no other choice."
From about 15 feet away, Shiflett knew Pinkney wasn’t going to go easy. He knew whatever happened in that hallway "was going to suck,” he said.
Pinkney "didn’t leave when he had the opportunity. He didn’t throw his weapon down when ordered. He saw me with the rifle. None of those things deterred him,” Shiflett said.
As Shiflett advanced, the first shot Pinkney fired off "zinged right past my head,” Shiflett said. He fired two rounds back, Pinkney fired another shot, and he kept firing, too. At some point, both men went down.
Miller, who fired as well, quickly came to Shiflett’s side. “You alright, Sarge?” he asked.
Miller, with one free hand, dragged Shiflett and all his gear — a combined 260 pounds, Shiflett estimated — back out through the clinic to the front doors. Foster watched from another angle, in case there were other gunmen inside.
In the ambulance, Shiflett called his wife. He couldn’t reach her, so he left her a voicemail.
“I told her that I’d been shot and that I was on the way to Shock Trauma, and that I loved her,” he said. “At that point I thought, 'Maybe I’m not getting out of this.”
One of Shiflett’s nieces, a dispatcher for the city, heard the encounter play out on the radio while working that day. She contacted Shiflett’s wife, as did Maj. Rich Gibson, the head of the Northern District. A suburban law enforcement officer rushed his family to Baltimore, Shiflett said.
Before his police career, Shiflett spent four years as a trauma tech at Shock Trauma, working in the trauma resuscitation unit. He knew how things would go. He watched until an attending physician said, “OK, Bill, we’re going to be taking you back to the OR.” Then he forgets. He was out for two days.
When he came to, there was his wife, and his two teenage daughters. A doctor told him they were working hard to remove the endotracheal tube in his throat, which was helping him breathe. Using a notepad, he told them to "work harder,” he said with a laugh.
Shiflett declined to discuss the broader meaning of the events or his actions, if any, or to place them within the broader political debates around gun violence and gun control and whether and how the Baltimore Police Department has the resources it needs to do its job.
He was just doing his job, he said.