Suspect has prior weapons convictions
Police say Maurice Hill is also known drug trafficker; sister says he was trying to change
To associates in the drug world, he was known by the nickname “Gruff.” Police have known him as the leader of a crack cocaine trafficking organization based around Southwest Philadelphia’s Paschall Village projects for more than a decade.
And two days before he allegedly opened fire on police from a second-floor window in North Philadelphia Maurice Hill had a baby daughter with his girlfriend.
Those details, gleaned from interviews with family members, law enforcement sources and court records detailing Hill’s extensive criminal past, began to fill in the background of the man suspected of shooting six police officers and keeping authorities — and an entire city — on edge during a seven-and-a-half-hour standoff Wednesday.
A day later, Hill, 36, remained in police custody as federal and local authorities discussed who would lead the case against him and what charges he might face.
But as he held out until
nearly midnight Thursday before surrendering, authorities said, his thoughts were overwhelmed by two overriding concerns.
District Attorney Larry Krasner, who helped negotiate Hill’s surrender, said the man was desperate to “end the situation without being killed.”
But Police Commissioner Richard Ross said: “This man was not going to go back to prison. He made that clear.”
Public records show that Hill has been arrested about a dozen times since turning 18, and convicted six times on charges that involved illegal possession of guns, drug dealing, and aggravated assault. He has been in and out of prison; the longest sentence coming in 2010 when a federal judge gave him a 55month term.
But in recent years, said his older sister Chanell White, he had been attempting to turn his life around. He was working at a warehouse and occasionally attended a mosque at 67th Street and Woodland Avenue, where Southwest Philadelphia residents reported seeing him with his ex-wife and son, now 16.
“What he has been doing recently, [police] don’t know,” White said. “They are going to go off stuff he did eight, 10, 13 years ago.”
William E. Hart, former executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Re-integration Services for Ex-offenders, met Hill when he joined the program after a recent release from prison and did odd jobs such cleaning up after the Philadelphia Marathon.
“He had no issues,” Hart said. “He would not disappear . ... He was consistent.”
Neighbors on the 3700 block of North 15th Street, where Wednesday’s standoff occurred, said they had seen Hill in the area in the weeks before the shootings.
“I never saw him do nothing bad,” said Rodney Wilson, a supervisor at a produce company who often saw Hill hanging out on the block and betting on the outcome of neighborhood basketball games. “He was just calm.”
When narcotics officers showed up on the block about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Hill wasn’t their target.
According to law enforcement sources who were not authorized to discuss the case publicly, investigators arrived to serve a warrant on a suspected drug house. Hill was in a stash house nearby, and when police raided it, he allegedly opened fire.
As officers ran and ducked for cover under a barrage of bullets, they learned that the man inside was shooting at them while using FaceTime to talk with the mother of his child, who was in a maternity ward at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, the sources said.
She and others would later confirm Hill’s identity to investigators. Once they had a name, they realized their alleged attacker was someone they knew. Hill’s lengthy history of drug dealing put him on narcotics investigators’ radar as early as 2002.
Law enforcement sources describe him as a significant player in Southwest Philadelphia’s drug scene who based his operations on the 2100 block of Gould Street.
Thursday evening, the block was buzzing with talk of Hill.
“Everybody around here was praying and holding their breath that he would get out of there and survive,” said Shamara Lee, 45, while seated on a stoop in front of a boardedup home.
Lee, self-described as homeless and struggling with crackcocaine addiction, said she knew nothing about Hill’s long history of drug dealing in the neighborhood. Instead, she recalled cash and food he gave to struggling neighbors and the kids he sometimes paid to pick up and haul away trash.
Law enforcement sources say he also used neighborhood kids as cogs in his narcotics-trafficking machine.
Hill’s history in the adult criminal justice system began young. Soon after he turned 18 in 2001, he was arrested with a gun that had an altered serial number.
Three constants persisted in the crimes he committed over the next 18 years: guns, drugs and violence.
In 2006, he was shot five times in the legs in a fracas at the Paschal project’s courtyard. Though he would later agree to testify against his attacker in exchange for leniency in a federal firearms case, court records show he recanted on the witness stand and was charged with perjury.
Hill was convicted of shooting a man in the buttocks in 2007, which netted him one and a half to three years in prison on an aggravated assault charge.
Federal gun charges sent him to prison for nearly five years in 2010.
Since Hill’s release, probation officers have accused him of violating the terms of his city and federal probation. He appeared before Common Pleas Court Judge Rayford Means on three occasions between 2014 and 2016, at least two of them related to new charges filed against him.
In one of those cases, Hill was charged with drug possession and a host of other counts after a woman who claimed she’d agreed to sell marijuana for him feared Hill was preparing to kill her.
The woman called police and escaped the house where she was meeting him. Investigators later found crack cocaine and marijuana hidden in a tire in back of the house, but the case was withdrawn by prosecutors when the woman failed to show up to testify, court records show.
Shaka Mzee Johnson served as Hill’s defense lawyer in many of those recent cases. And several hours into Wednesday’s standoff, Hill reached out to him again. Johnson said he was watching coverage of the standoff on TV when he received an “ominous” text from Hill’s sister and a call from an Inquirer reporter asking whether his longtime client might be involved.
Within minutes, the lawyer’s phone rang again. This time it was Hill.
“Even the way he sounded, I knew he was telling me it was him,” Johnson said Thursday at the Stout Center for Criminal Justice.
Johnson said he initially gave Hill “a tongue-lashing” but quickly turned toward persuading him to surrender.
“‘I need you to come out of there safe’” the lawyer recalled telling Hill. “I said, ‘You got to know the cops are pumped up on testosterone, their brother officers have been hurt. The community’s under siege, people locked out of their homes. They’re not going to play with you for long, so I need you to come on out of there.’”
That launched an intense negotiation among Hill, Krasner, and others, which eventually ended with Hill agreeing to hand himself over to police.
But White, Hill’s older sister, said the events of Wednesday evening and her brother’s arrest record tell only part of his story. She sketched out his life in a telephone interview.
The youngest of three siblings raised by their grandmother, and the only boy, Hill graduated from Bartram High School in 2001 with a trade certificate for heating and air-conditioning systems. He never worked in the field but held several jobs, she said, including as a manager at a KFC and later a Chuck E. Cheese.
“Everybody loved him,” White said. “Everybody still loves him. He’s not gone.”
“But at the end of the day,” she added with a sigh, Hill will be judged “by what happened yesterday.”
Police take shooting suspect Maurice Hill into custody early Thursday after an hourslong standoff in which six officers were wounded in North Philadelphia.