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Shooting in Philadelphia that wounded six police officers 'could have been far worse'

Police take shooting suspect, Maurice Hill, into custody in Philadelphia early Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, following an hours-long standoff that left several officers wounded.

ELIZABETH ROBERTSON, THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER/AP

By KRISTEN DE GROOT | Associated Press | Published: August 15, 2019

PHILADELPHIA — A gunman barricaded himself inside a Philadelphia rowhouse for 7½ hours, firing on police and wounding six in a standoff that trapped two officers and paralyzed a neighborhood, all while the commissioner and the shooter's attorney tried to negotiate a surrender.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross expressed amazement that the standoff, which began Wednesday when officers attempted to serve a drug warrant, ended with no one dead and no life-threatening injuries, despite the gunman firing over 100 rounds.

It "could have been far worse," Ross said Thursday outside the Philadelphia Police Department. "This was a very dynamic situation, one that I hope we never see again."

The gunman came out of the home after police used tear gas. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation and then placed in custody.

As officers flooded the scene, the situation grew chaotic at times. Police took to Twitter to ask media helicopters to pull back at the beginning of the standoff, saying they feared the gunman might be able to see police positions in the footage. People who had been blocked or pulled from their homes clamored for information, and at times, some onlookers shouted at or shoved officers. Many ignored orders by police to stay back, ducking under or stepping over police tape.

At one point, two men launched a drone, and when police tracked it down and confiscated it, a crowd of people already on edge shouted for the officers to pay attention to the shooter and not the drone.

A nearby day care center was locked down for hours and later evacuated, with police officers helping carry babies and two city buses set up where shaken children waited for their parents to pick them up.

While standoffs with police are not uncommon, the situation in Philadelphia drew particular attention because of how long gunfire was exchanged and the fact that the commissioner made the unusual decision to speak to the shooter directly and that two police officers were trapped during the standoff.

The suspect was identified by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner as Maurice Hill, 36. Krasner said Hill had an extensive criminal history, including drug, gun and robbery charges. Krasner said Hill should not have been on the streets but stopped short of saying there was any specific failure by law enforcement.

"I think it's fair to say the criminal justice system, imperfect as it is, did not stop this terrible incident," he told reporters at a news conference Thursday.

Pennsylvania prison officials said a man with the same name and date of birth served about 2½ years on drug charges and was paroled in 2006 and served more than a year for aggravated assault and before being released in 2013.

State court online court records indicate that man had multiple arrests in Philadelphia and adjacent Delaware County between 2001 and 2012, producing convictions that include perjury, fleeing and eluding, escape and weapons offenses.

Hill's lawyer, Shaka Johnson, said Hill called him during the standoff asking for help surrendering. Johnson then called Krasner, and the two men patched in both Hill and the police commissioner, according to Krasner.

Hill told Johnson he wanted to make it out alive to see his newborn daughter and teenage son again.

President Donald Trump weighed in on the shootout Thursday morning, saying the gunman "should never have been allowed to be on the streets."

"He had a long and very dangerous criminal record," he wrote in the tweet. "Looked like he was having a good time after his capture, and after wounding so many police. Long sentence — must get much tougher on street crime!"

In the aftermath of the standoff, Philadelphia's top federal prosecutor said it was precipitated by a disrespect for law enforcement that the district attorney is championing.

"This vile rhetoric puts our police in danger," U.S. Attorney William McSwain said Thursday in a news release, saying Krasner "routinely calls police and prosecutors corrupt and racist."

Ross, the commissioner, said the gunman had at least an AR-15 military-style weapon and a handgun. On Thursday, politicians from Pennsylvania called for new gun-control measures. Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney told reporters called on state and federal lawmakers to "step up or step aside" and let cities deal with the problem themselves. He did not give specifics on what he wanted to see done.

The standoff started around 4:30 p.m. as officers went to a home in a north Philadelphia neighborhood of brick and stone rowhomes to serve a narcotics warrant in an operation "that went awry almost immediately," Ross said.

Many officers "had to escape through windows and doors to get (away) from a barrage of bullets," Ross said.

The six officers who were struck by gunfire have been released from hospitals.

Two other officers who were trapped inside the house for about five hours after the shooting broke out were freed by a SWAT team well after dark fell.

Ross said the reason he made the unusual decision to be the person negotiating with Hill was because he was "so worried" about his officers stuck inside.

"I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I was 200 feet away," he said Thursday.

Three people who officers had taken into custody in the house before the shooting started were also safely evacuated, police said.

Police tried to push crowds of onlookers and residents back from the scene. In police radio broadcasts, officers could be heard calling for backup as reports of officers getting shot poured in.

"There was just a lot of screaming and chaos," said Abdul Rahman Muhammad, 21, an off-duty medic.

 

Associated Press writers Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia, Michael Balsamo in Washington, Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Michael Rubinkam in Allentown, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.

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