Prosecutors pledged Thursday to send the gunman who shot six Philadelphia police officers to prison for life, as new details emerged about the harrowing standoff and lawmakers seized on it to push for new laws to curb illegal and assault-weapon gun sales.
Officials said that the suspect, Maurice Hill, likely used an AR-15 rifle to fire on officers during the standoff that paralyzed the Tioga section of the city for more than seven hours Wednesday, and that he had a handgun in his pocket when he finally surrendered after midnight.
District Attorney Larry Krasner said Hill, 36, will be charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, and other crimes, and could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Investigators also scoured the shooting scene and sorted through the officer accounts, forensic evidence, and surveillance video in a bid to piece together the most extensive shooting attack on Philadelphia police in decades. And the city, and its elected officials, continued to reckon with an event that stirred raw emotions about how citizens see and interact with officers, the scourge of gun violence, and whether politicians can and should do anything to stop it.
“No one should have access to the kind of weaponry and fire power that we saw in North Philadelphia yesterday,” Mayor Jim Kenney told reporters at City Hall, where he was joined by Gov. Tom Wolf, Sen. Bob Casey, and others who called for new legislation.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, citing Hill’s extensive criminal history, declared the incident showed a need to “get much tougher on street crime.” Trump’s appointee in the Philadelphia region, U.S. Attorney William McSwain, echoed that theme, renewing his growing criticism of Krasner, the former civil rights lawyer who was elected district attorney two years ago on a reform platform.
Even so, all sides seemed to unite in praising the bravery of the officers.
“In the face of what could have been a horrific tragedy, the peaceful resolution of the incident marks one of the finest moments in the history of the Philadelphia Police Department,” Kenney said.
Late Thursday afternoon, the department identified the wounded officers; they ranged from one 26-year-old on the force just two years to a 19-year veteran on the Narcotics Strike Force.
That no one died — each of the officers was discharged after being briefly hospitalized — was an outcome even Police Commissioner Richard Ross conceded he didn’t expect after hearing Wednesday that Hill had vowed he wouldn’t return to prison.
“For a long time last night, I know our collective hearts were in our throats,” Ross told reporters at the City Hall news conference. “I did not think it would end nearly the way it did.”
Questions also emerged about the events that led to the standoff. According to law enforcement sources and court records, narcotics officers approached the area Wednesday afternoon with a search warrant for a house a few doors down from the one that became the site of the shootout.
Authorities’ initial target was a home at 3712 N. 15th St. But after surveillance on the block, sources said, officers turned their attention to a nearby house, at 3716 N. 15th St., and soon made the decision to enter it.
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As soon as strike force officers breached the front door, one team ran upstairs, another for the basement, and a third for the kitchen, where Hill opened fire, according to law enforcement sources.
This sent officers running for their lives, and trapped two officers upstairs. Meanwhile, scores of officers rushed to the scene.
The trapped officers were able to use a direct radio link with SWAT unit supervisors and provide layouts and conditions in the house. At times, the two officers squeezed into the bathroom with three prisoners to protect themselves from the shots Hill was firing through the floor. They hoped the tile bathroom floor would better protect them.
The trapped officers expressed concern as the day went on that they were losing light, which could offer the shooter a tactical advantage.
A SWAT team rescued the officers and other hostages about 2½ hours before Hill surrendered; Ross declined to provide details, saying he didn’t want to disclose strategy.
Throughout the standoff, sources said, the shooter was calling friends and the mother of his child. Multiple people called police to tell them that Maurice Hill was the shooter.
When Ross arrived on the scene, he asked for a bulletproof vest — a bomb tech handed over his own. The commissioner commandeered the scene and opened direct lines of communication between him and the shooter.
“This was the first time, and I hope it is the last time,” Ross said Thursday of his unusual foray into negotiating with a barricaded gunman.
Krasner and the gunman’s former lawyer, Shaka Mzee Johnson, also spoke by phone with the gunman.
Johnson said in an interview that Hill called him during the standoff and said he was concerned that if he tried to surrender peacefully, the police would still kill him.
Johnson then called Ross, and said Hill was willing to surrender. He said the police commissioner gave Hill until 11:45 p.m. to emerge, at which time police tactical units would be engaged. Around midnight, police fired tear gas into the house. It was that, Ross later said, "that ultimately brought him outside.”
Hill has been arrested about a dozen times as an adult and convicted several times. The crimes included illegal possession of guns, drug offenses, and aggravated assault.
A spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office said he did not know where Hill was being held.
The lack of deaths or severe injuries didn’t stop a wave of political reaction and jockeying over the issue.
Kenney led a news conference where elected officials, mostly Democrats, renewed calls for Congress to strengthen background checks and ban assault weapons, and for Pennsylvania’s state legislature to act on stalled proposals. Republicans have said new restrictions would only punish law-abiding citizens.
City Council President Darrell Clarke said it should not be a partisan issue. “There’s one underlying fact: Too many weapons on the street in this country. Bottom line,” he said. “Poll after poll says everybody wants us to do something. So do something.”
Krasner, during a news conference, said Hill’s record should have prevented him from being on the street, but said it was not fair to blame the criminal justice system.
“If you’re asking me do I believe everyone in the system … has a crystal ball? I do not,” he said.
The district attorney also declined to comment on the legality of the search by police or the search warrant that they had obtained. He said there are “many good reasons why events can occur in one location that create exigent circumstances … that would require officers to go into another location.”
But he added: “I cannot say one way or another what the evidence is going to show. It would be very premature for me to comment further."
Ross said the search warrant that officers executed Wednesday was “definitely” for another property, and although he said much of the situation remained under investigation, he added officers would have had probable cause to enter the home if they witnessed drugs being taken into it.
Defense lawyers argued Thursday that if officers searched a property without a warrant, that could constitute an illegal search.
Bradley Bridge, a lawyer with the Defender Association of Philadelphia, said officers “would need to get a warrant for the second location. That’s what the Fourth Amendment mandates,” He continued: “If there were exigent circumstances, like an emergency, they might be able to have an excuse for the failure to obtain a warrant — but the movement of a duffel bag from one house to a second house does not create that exigency.
Police believe Hill and officers fired 200 rounds, according to a law enforcement source. No one knew Hill was in that kitchen, with his guns, when they went in the home.
As investigators pored over evidence, the police union’s president, John McNesby, like McSwain, wasted no time pointing the finger at Krasner.
McNesby said Philadelphia needed a new district attorney; McSwain accused Krasner of promoting a “culture of disrespect for law enforcement in this city.”
Krasner fired back: “It is an attempt, and it is familiar in the Trump administration, the Trump administration that appointed Mr. McSwain, it is a familiar bit of opportunistic politics. I will not dignify it with a detailed response.”
Near the site of the standoff, where streets had been closed and a day-care center had been put on lockdown, residents on Thursday described a neighborhood full of kids in youthful energy, and said they were grateful for the police and thankful nobody was killed.
Yvette, a 53-year-old who grew up just a block south of the shooting, said Thursday the police were “outstanding” in working with neighbors, many of whom congregated on her block when they couldn’t get into their own homes. “They showed professionalism,” said Yvette, who declined to give her last name. “They treated everyone with respect.”
Davar Dove, a 25-year-old musician who lives around the corner from where the shooting took place, said he watched the scene unfold from the third-floor window alongside his sister and her five young children.
He recalled peeking out the window and seeing dozens of police officers “running for their lives.” Thursday, he said he felt grateful no one was killed.
“When you look out the window and see 200 cops in a standoff outside, you don’t expect everyone will survive,” he said.
But Dove also said hearing shots fired was nothing new: “Another day in the life of Philly.”