Salisbury officers heralded for reaction to gunman

Salisbury Police released the body camera video recordings of a 19-year-old man’s arrest at Elizabeth W. Woodcock Park and Playground. The video can be viewed on the city’s Facebook page.

The 19-year-old Salisbury man who, in the midst of a mental health crisis, urged police to shoot him last week, was talked into putting down his gun in a joint display of law enforcement and compassion.

“I am incredibly proud of the officers that night and how they responded to this call,” Police Chief Barbara Duncan told the Salisbury Independent this week.

“The agency invests a lot of time in training on identifying individuals who are suffering from a mental crisis and in de-escalation. That training certainly paid off,” she said.

She was disappointed that the man, Joel Asaiha Hampshire, was called “a thug” on social media.

“That is not the case here. It just is not. Talking to him on the scene, it took him awhile to comply with the officers’ orders. We know this was a true medical crisis for him. He was truly in crisis. The officers recognized it and acted accordingly,” Duncan said.

“It’s a shame people are so quick to judge. With everything we have going on today, especially when it comes to interactions with police officers, to have this one go right is incredible and really speaks to the dedication and training of our officers. That kind of public berating pushes folks into places they don’t have to be. It’s just not acceptable. That’s somebody’s kid,” Duncan said.

On his Facebook page, Hampshire has several recent posts about being lonely, including the particularly poignant, “I miss her” and a drawing of an electrocardiogram with the words, “If it stopped, would you miss me?”

The incident occurred around 10 p.m. on July 11, after Salisbury Police responded to a 911 call to Elizabeth W. Woodcock Park and Playground, for a man who was there with a gun.

Sgt. Richard Engle was first to respond and encountered Hampshire raising what appeared to be a handgun and ordered him to drop it. “You’re going to have to kill me,” Hampshire told him. Engle fired one shot, then took cover, but nobody was injured.

As additional officers arrived, Hampshire continued pointing the gun at them, saying, “Just shoot me.”

Officers negotiated with him and he finally let go of the gun, which was an air gun that police said has characteristics making it nearly indistinguishable from a weapon.

Engle was the first officer to arrive at the park, followed by Officers Lisa Perdue, Seamus Lynch and Colin Shockley and Cpl. Jason Harrington.

“After Sgt. Engle gets out of the car and starts verbally interacting with him, speaking with him, Mr. Hampshire raises the gun on him. Sgt. Engle tells him to drop the gun and fires one round. Mr. Hampshire didn’t drop the gun and then other officers started to arrive on the scene. Both of them were moving when Sgt. Engle fired the shot,” Duncan said.

Hampshire, who, police learned, made the 911 call, was charged with first-degree assault, second-degree assault and failure to obey a lawful order, then was taken to Peninsula Regional Medical Center for an evaluation, police said.

In a news release issued by the police department, Duncan praised officers for showing “substantial restraint under the extreme duress of this life-and-death situation.”

“The outcome is a credit to their personal character, quality training and unwavering professionalism. The officers were able to quickly assess the evolving situation as a dangerous mental health crisis and employed the appropriate intervention techniques to bring what could have been a tragic situation to a safe resolution for everyone,” Duncan stated.

Engle’s actions won him accolades from city officials, including Mayor Jake Day, who said the park, at Pennsylvania Avenue and Riverside Road, is known as a safe place where neighbors don’t expect, or want, guns. Day made the call to 911, transcript and the video from Engle’s body camera public.

Hampshire, Day said, experienced “an incredibly stressful and emotional” time and thought about ending his life.

Duncan said the Salisbury Police Department’s Safe Streets Unit will be shifting its focus to issues like illegal guns and gang activity. The unit will continue to work with the Maryland State Police gang enforcement unit, Duncan said.

Day praised the officers for their “incredible training, leading to someone with the tactical patience to stop and remove his finger from the trigger, to not engage directly with his weapon anymore but simply continuing verbal communications.”

“The officer effectively got the guy to drop his weapon.

Even after the shot was fired he was still looking to have the officers kill him.

It’s a reminder, a stark reminder, not only how good our training is but, more importantly, how  we, in our country, invest in mental health parity,” Day said.


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