The day before Maurice Hill allegedly shot six city cops in Tioga during a dramatic 7½-hour standoff that captured the nation’s attention, officers with the Police Department’s Narcotics Strike Force were on a conventional assignment: watching for open-air drug sales on the 1400 block of Erie Avenue, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Cops monitoring activity there on Aug. 13 had made three arrests, and say they saw suspected dealers entering and exiting a rowhouse around the corner, at 3712 N. 15th St. Investigators got a warrant for the property, then returned Wednesday to continue surveillance.
In the hours that followed, an otherwise unremarkable investigation devolved into chaos. Investigators tried to secure a second home on the block, but when one of the cops peered into the kitchen, sources said, he was met with a bullet grazing the side of his head.
Almost immediately, one source said, the inside of the house resembled a volatile, frenzied construction site — the air filled with smoke and debris as bullets tore holes through the walls. Cops traded hundreds of rounds with Hill, who is accused of firing an AR-15 at officers stationed inside and outside the home, including at two cops and three handcuffed suspects hiding upstairs.
District Attorney Larry Krasner said this week that the investigation into what happened could take months. A spokesperson for his office declined to elaborate, and attempts to discuss the incident with then-Police Commissioner Richard Ross — who abruptly resigned over an unrelated scandal Tuesday — were unsuccessful.
An Inquirer review of court records, and interviews with law enforcement sources who requested anonymity to discuss an open criminal case, shed light on how police were drawn to the block, and what happened in the moments after Hill allegedly opened fire.
The standoff ended when Hill surrendered around midnight. He was charged with 11 counts of attempted murder and a litany of related charges.
Residents described him as a relative stranger. Police said his last known address was listed as Darby Borough, Delaware County; sources said he was known around Southwest Philadelphia but may have been hiding out on 15th, although precise reasons were unclear.
Officers began monitoring Erie Avenue on Aug. 13. About 7:40 p.m., police said, three people were arrested on that block for narcotics violations: Jill Rich, 32, of Juniata Park; Gregory Littlejohn, 50, of Nicetown; and Shafeeq Simon, 24, also of Nicetown.
Rich is accused of buying marijuana and the anxiety medication alprazolam “from someone not authorized by law to sell,” according to court records. She was released without having to post bail, court records say, and does not have a history of recent drug arrests.
Littlejohn and Simon were both charged with conspiracy and possessing enough narcotics “under circumstances sufficient to indicate an intent to deliver,” court records say. Each was given $5,000 unsecured bail; Simon’s arrest history includes a drug case in July for which he had been free on bail and is awaiting trial.
It was not immediately clear how any of the defendants may have been connected to Hill. In court documents, each of their criminal dockets is now linked to his.
Attempts to reach lawyers for Rich and Littlejohn were unsuccessful; Simon’s attorney declined to comment.
Sources said that as investigators watched the block, they saw people involved in transactions going into and out of 3712 N. 15th.
After getting a search warrant for the property, officers returned to the site the next day.
In the late afternoon Aug. 14, sources say, officers tried to stop someone who had exited 3712 N. 15th and had driven away with what they believed to be drugs.
Shortly afterward, 3712 N. 15th became a hive of activity. Sources say investigators saw a man — whom prosecutors later identified in court as Terrence Williams — leaving the house with a bag and taking it to a house two doors away. The bag transfer was not captured on intermittent surveillance footage recorded from across the street.
Cops believed the failed car stop had tipped off dealers in the house, and feared that evidence inside might soon be destroyed. Around 4:30., officers executed their search warrant on 3712, sources said, and also entered the second house, 3716 N. 15th, believing they could secure it and hold the scene while waiting to conduct a full search once a judge had signed a search warrant.
Defense lawyers have challenged that tactic, saying that officers needed a warrant before entering the second house.
In the aftermath of the raid last week, Ross said “exigent circumstances” could have provided enough probable cause for police to move to “contain that property."
Officers fanned through the house, trying to clear each room. One source described the inside of the house as a pillbox, with a series of walls breaking up rooms on the ground floor.
When Officer Shaun Parker peered into the kitchen, a source said, one of Hill’s shots skimmed Parker’s head and avoided being fatal “by millimeters.”
In the minutes that followed, officers scrambled for survival.
Hill, a source said, continued firing out of the kitchen.
Meanwhile, the source said, Parker tried to shoot through a window to break free, but ended up jumping through the glass and into a backyard. According to the source, Parker encountered two pit bulls after he leaped outside, but managed to vault a 6-foot fence and escape.
Officer Nathaniel Harper was shot in a leg. Surveillance footage captured him rolling out the front door after shots rang out.
Four other officers — Joshua Burkitt, Justin Matthews, Michael Guinter, and Ryan Waltman — sustained gunshot wounds. All were taken to hospitals and were released within hours.
As Hill continued shooting, two other cops — Edward Wright and James Wheeler — remained trapped upstairs with three prisoners, including Williams and Ronald Ellis. The third person, a woman, was not charged and has not been publicly identified.
Around 9:30 p.m., SWAT officers helped those caught in the house evacuate safely. Police have not detailed how the rescue took place.
After negotiating by phone with Ross, Krasner, and his former attorney, Shaka Johnson, Hill surrendered around midnight. Ross said Hill turned himself in with a handgun in his pocket.
Hill was arraigned Saturday and held without bail. It was unclear if he has obtained a lawyer; none is listed in court documents on his case.
Williams, Ellis, and two others — Dwayne Turner, 31, of West Chester, and Raynell Rodgers, 30, of Philadelphia — were charged with conspiracy and drug counts. Each remains in custody after failing to post the bail money required for release, according to court records.
It remains a mystery why Hill was holed up in the house with those men.
The lawyer who represented Hill at a probation violation hearing this week, Chris Montoya, said the probation department had issued an absconder warrant for him more than a year ago, after Hill apparently did not sufficiently meet the conditions of probation for a 2012 perjury conviction.
A court spokesperson said this week that there are currently more than 8,000 people in Philadelphia with active absconder warrants.
Krasner has said Hill — whose criminal history includes six past convictions — is now likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars. His first scheduled court appearance is set for next month, though it will likely be delayed.
In the meantime, the investigation is continuing.
This week, sources said, investigators searched a storage unit allegedly connected to Hill’s girlfriend. Inside, they found a cache of weaponry, including a disassembled handgun, a shotgun, two empty AR-15 magazines, and a host of other ammo.
As of Thursday, charges had not been filed.