Sus­pect has prior weapons con­vic­tions

Po­lice say Mau­rice Hill is also known drug traf­ficker; sis­ter says he was try­ing to change

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Jeremy Roe­buck

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.”

EL­IZ­A­BETH ROBERTSON/THE PHILADELPH­IA INQUIRER

Po­lice take shoot­ing sus­pect Mau­rice Hill into cus­tody early Thurs­day af­ter an hours­long stand­off in which six of­fi­cers were wounded in North Philadelph­ia.

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