Bullets were flying into parked cars, police vehicles, and an armored truck. Windows were shattering, shots were ricocheting off the sidewalk, and the flashes of gunfire were so intense inside one home on the block, it looked as if the residence was on fire.
That was the scene 15 Philadelphia police officers recalled Thursday in describing what happened on the 3700 block of North 15th Street last August, when Maurice Hill allegedly initiated a shootout with Philadelphia police, firing guns, including an assault rifle, during a botched drug raid that became a 7½-hour standoff.
The incident left six officers wounded — the most in a single incident in modern city history — and traumatized nearby residents. Each of the officers recovered from injuries that included a graze wound to the head and shots to the arms, legs, or hands.
Almost exactly a year later, Hill returned to court Thursday to face his third preliminary hearing in the case. Municipal Court Judge Karen Y. Simmons again ordered him held for trial, this time on charges related to gunshots fired at officers who were not hit during the gun battle.
Some counts were dropped for lack of evidence due to officers’ inability to testify, and Simmons dismissed some counts of attempted murder, ruling that Hill would be held instead on reckless endangerment. Still, the proceeding added scores of crimes to the laundry list of charges he already faces at a trial currently scheduled for next year. Hill has been held without bail since he surrendered last August.
Police have said the incident began as a drug raid on a nearby house, but devolved into chaos when officers went into a neighboring house to investigate possible narcotics crimes, at which point Hill, who was in the kitchen, began firing bullets through the walls.
None of the officers who testified Thursday witnessed the events that precipitated the gunfire. Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Danielle Burkavage, most said they arrived to the block after the shootout started. Several said they “leapfrogged” behind parked cars to avoid getting shot, or tried to help officers who were injured.
“It was just overwhelming,” Sgt. Edward McLaughlin said of the gunfire. “It just wouldn’t stop.”
“I could feel the bullets buzzing over my head,” said Officer Jordan Culbreath.
The virtual hearing was held over Zoom, with the officers testifying from a North Philadelphia courtroom. Hill, donning a mask, watched from a courtroom at the Stout Center for Criminal Justice. His attorney, Edward Meehan, sat several feet away at a table in the same room.
The setting provided some logistical challenges, including for officers seeking to identify Hill as the man they saw at the scene. When one officer was preparing to do so, Hill briefly turned the camera away from his face, laughing beneath his mask as Burkavage expressed frustration.