Philadelphia police commissioner praises efforts of officers
PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said Thursday that he personally tried to talk the gunman who wounded six police officers into surrendering in North Philadelphia’s Tioga section, but it was “the tear gas that ultimately brought him outside.”
“This was the first time, and I hope it is the last time,” Ross said of his unusual foray into negotiating with a barricaded gunman.
Hours after a seven-hour standoff ended with the suspect surrendering and the six officers wounded by gunfire released from hospitals, Ross praised the actions of the officers, which allowed the situation to end without a loss of life, and spoke of his own part in the resolution.
Ross said one thing that weighed heavily on him was the fact that two police officers were trapped inside the house from which the gunman was firing after the execution of a narcotics warrant went awry.
He also said he felt “bad” about not going to Einstein Medical Center to visit some of the wounded officers, “but given the fact we had two officers trapped, I just couldn’t leave that scene. I just couldn’t leave that scene.”
The trapped officers, who had three people in custody with them on the second floor of the house, communicated at first by radio and then by cellphone with supervisors outside, alerting them to their positions and receiving instructions on a plan to rescue them.
“The gist of the conversations were where they were, were they OK, and at some point letting them know what we were doing so that they could know, should they hear things like breaking glass, which we had to do at different times to offer vantage points for the trapped police officers,” Ross said.
He said he did not know if the gunman on the first floor knew anyone was upstairs.
Around 9:30 p.m., five hours after the standoff began, SWAT officers rescued the two officers and the three people in their custody without firing a shot.
“It would’ve been even more dangerous and violent were it not for the professionalism of that SWAT unit,” Ross said. “The manner in which they got those officers out who were trapped, and those other civilians who were trapped, was just amazing to me. They were able to do that in such a clandestine way without drawing fire from him. Obviously, there were attempts to distract him.
“We would not have taken the last action we took, which was tear gas, with those other people inside. Because then you don’t know what he would’ve done.”
The rescue transformed what was a hostage situation into a barricaded shooter situation, Ross noted.
Ross said the gunman, identified as Maurice Hill, 36, rebuffed initial attempts by police to negotiate with him but was using his phone to talk to other people, including his girlfriend with whom he recently had a daughter.
At some point, Ross said he asked the police negotiator if it would help if he talked to Hill, and the negotiator agreed.
The negotiator instructed Ross on what questions to ask. Hill, he said, spoke of his newborn daughter and his criminal record.
“In fact, he told me on the phone he used the word ‘extensive,’ he had an extensive criminal history, and that he knew the system, and why he was making the outlandish demands he was making,” Ross said, without detailing those demands.
“But we weren’t going to lie to him and tell him we were going to acquiesce to what he wanted, because that’s not what you do either because that creates problems as well,” he said.
Hill’s lawyer, Shaka Johnson, also spoke to his client Wednesday night. Ross said they had a three-way conversation at one point.
“But that was towards the end of the night when he decided to talk a little more,” Ross said. “I guess we started to wear on him a little bit, because you’ve got hours of people in his ear. People, meaning me, trying to appeal to why he had a reason to live, talking about his daughter, a newborn.”
Despite the negotiations, “it was also the tear gas that ultimately brought him outside,” Ross said.
Even then, the commissioner said, he did not expect the suspect would give up peacefully.
“I was surprised he came out,” Ross said. “He indicated he wasn’t going back” to jail.
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