She took one look at the handgun on the bedroom dresser and knew she was in trouble.
She’d been called to this two-story, redbrick rowhouse on Greenway Avenue near 70th Street in Southwest Philadelphia on Oct. 22, 2014, to meet with the man who’d given her an ounce of marijuana a week earlier, with the clear expectation that she would sell it for him.
But the woman couldn’t bring herself to do it, and hoped she’d be able to just return the drugs to him now — no harm, no foul. Instead, she was ushered to a second-floor bedroom, according to court records obtained by The Inquirer.
She could hear a conversation playing out on the first floor between the man who’d allegedly given her the drugs, Maurice Hill, a notorious drug dealer, and his cousin, a guy nicknamed “Meech.”
“We got her now, we might as well do what we got to do,” Hill said.
“We gotta do this quick and get it over with,” his cousin responded.
Fearing for her life, she dialed 911. But a noise outside the room spooked her, and she quickly hung up.
Then she called again, but stayed mum as an operator peppered her with questions. The two calls were enough to lure officers from the 12th Police District to Greenway Avenue. Hill and his cousin spotted the cops, bolted out of the house, and tucked 83 grams of marijuana behind a car tire, the records show.
“Meech” and another woman, nicknamed “P,” managed to flee. But Hill was arrested inside the house, charged with drug possession, false imprisonment, and related offenses.
The cop who handcuffed Hill that day had been on the force for about seven years. His name was Edward Wright, and he’d gradually won the admiration of his bosses for the work he was doing in Southwest Philly neighborhoods that doubled as chessboards for drug kingpins who ruled their fiefdoms with calculated efficiency.
Neither Wright nor Hill could have imagined that they would meet up again, nearly five years later, under very different circumstances. But fate can have a twisted sense of humor sometimes.
How else could you explain that on Aug. 14, the day that Hill allegedly shot six police officers during a disastrous drug raid in Tioga, he would end up barricaded for nearly eight hours in a bullet-riddled rowhouse on 15th Street near Erie Avenue, where he’d repeatedly try to shoot two police officers trapped on the second floor — and that one of those cops would be Wright?
“I can’t even get my brain around it, to be honest,” former Police Commissioner Richard Ross said Monday, hours before he stunned the city when he resigned amid allegations that he retaliated against a female police officer after she’d ended an affair with him.
“There was no reason for [Wright] to think that he’d again run into not only this violent predator, but in a way that is so different than anything we’ve seen in decades."
Wright, 40, and Hill, 36, traveled decidedly different paths from Greenway Avenue to their eventual reunion 11 miles away on North 15th Street.
Hill remained a nearly constant presence on the 2100 block of Gould Street, where police said he ran a crack cocaine enterprise within spitting distance of the 12th District’s headquarters on Woodland Avenue.
On that narrow, weathered block, a group of young men started nodding from a porch last week when a reporter mentioned Hill’s name in connection with the Tioga standoff. They grew guarded when asked if Hill lived on the block.
“He’s a good guy. I can tell you that,” one man said.
Police have described Hill as a source of ongoing frustration. He’d been arrested about a dozen times since he turned 18, pleading guilty to charges over the years that ranged from resisting arrest to aggravated assault, drug possession and perjury. A 2010 conviction, on federal charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, resulted in a 55-month prison sentence.
But his clout in Southwest Philly’s drug trade grew steadily, police say. Investigators tracked his areas of operation from the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Paschall apartments, at 72nd Street and Woodland Avenue, to a corridor that ran from 65th to 69th Streets, Woodland to Greenway.
“He was the number-one player in that area,” one law enforcement source told The Inquirer. “He was always recruiting kids to sell for him.”
Wright’s 2014 arrest of Hill didn’t have much impact on Hill’s trajectory. Prosecutors later withdrew the charges after the woman who called police didn’t show up in court.
And the case itself is sealed, thanks to Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate law, which earlier this year caused millions of arrest records to be sealed for people who either were not convicted or hadn’t incurred new charges within 10 years of being charged with summary offenses or low-level misdemeanors.
“I’m not saying he’s a saint, because he isn’t a saint, but at the same time people don’t really know him,” said Shonda Hill, 44, Maurice’s oldest sister. “Besides being someone in the streets and drug dealing and carrying guns, he was a full-time father to his son. He co-parented with his son’s mother. He helped raise him right so that he wouldn’t follow in his footsteps and lead the life he led.”
The same law enforcement source who described Hill as a steady driver of drug crime called Wright “a good cop” who was often cool under pressure.
In 2016, while he was still working in the 12th District, Wright and another patrol cop heard gunshots coming from an alley between the 5300 blocks of Lindbergh Boulevard and Grays Avenue.
Wright spotted a man later identified as Desmond Abernathy holding a handgun on a rear deck. After the two officers told him to drop the gun, he allegedly fired at them. Wright shot back, wounding Abernathy in the thigh. Abernathy was charged with attempted criminal homicide and aggravated assault; the District Attorney’s Office cleared Wright of wrongdoing.
In 2017, Wright transferred to the Narcotics Strike Force. He was among a group of narcotics cops who had a search warrant last week for 3712 N. 15th St., where four people were arrested after the officers rushed down the block in police cruisers.
Had the cops’ activity ended there, Wright likely wouldn’t have encountered Hill again. But police have said that a man was observed carrying a bag into another house two doors away, and the officers decided to barrel into that house, too, securing whatever evidence was inside until they could obtain a search warrant.
Hill started shooting at them almost immediately, from a perch he held in the kitchen, where the walls provided him with crucial cover.
“It’s not like he woke up one day and said, ‘Well, you know what? I’m going to shoot some cops.’ I’m sure he didn’t do that, because I know my brother,” Shonda Hill said. “It was a situation and things happen, but what a lot of people don’t know is that, prior to [that day], people on the street were trying to kill him, because of the lifestyle he led. He was always paranoid.”
A series of panicked communications between cops at the scene and police dispatchers followed. “Radio, I got officers shot! I got officers shot, radio!” one cop yelled.
The calls drew a massive police presence to the neighborhood; at least 30 cops fired into the rowhouse at Hill.
Wright ended up trapped on the second floor with another cop, James Wheeler, and three people they’d handcuffed. The air was thick and humid up there. Hill fired up at the cops through the floor, while Wright and Wheeler took turns guarding the top of the steps, in case Hill charged up at them.
As chaotic banter filled police radios, Wright — using his call sign, Nathan 121 — calmly shared logistical information with SWAT officers who were trying to plot a way to enter the property.
“Be advised, it looks like he may have something propped up, like on the stairwell, in front of the stairwell,” Wright said at one point.
“Nathan 121, you said he has something propped up against the door?” a dispatcher asked.
“No, it’s not to the door,” he replied. “It’s to the stairwell, inside the property. The front entrance to the door is wide open, so we have access to that door.”
Wright shared updates on Hill’s position — “The shooter is in the dining room, on his cell phone right now, talking to a female” — and discouraged his fellow cops from charging into the house, warning that a second gunman could have been lurking within.
If not for Wright’s demeanor and the intel he provided under fire, Ross said he may not have decided to try to persuade Hill to surrender peacefully.
“If we couldn’t have spoken to them, all bets would’ve been off,” Ross said. “It would have been a different ballgame.”
This time, Wright’s encounter with Hill didn’t end in handcuffs. Instead, about 9:30 p.m., Ross began pleading nonstop with Hill, urging the alleged shooter to return his calls, begging him to give up, as another team of cops crept along the roof and then extracted Wright, Wheeler, and their three prisoners, according to a source who was at the scene that night.
Around midnight, cops fired tear gas into the house, and Hill came out with his hands in the air and a gun in his pocket.
If Wright and Hill encounter each other a third time, it likely will be in a drab Center City courtroom, where Hill will learn if he ever gets to set foot again on the streets of Philadelphia.