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Ramsey calls suspect “cold-blooded killer”

The suspect in Friday night's murder of a Philadelphia patrolman is an "unsalvageable" career criminal who "should not have been among us, period," Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said today.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey talks to reporters Saturday afternoon, February 14, about the murder of police Officer John Pawlowski (right inlay). Suspected killer is Rasheed Scrugs (inlay left). (Laurence Kesterson / Staff Photographer)
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey talks to reporters Saturday afternoon, February 14, about the murder of police Officer John Pawlowski (right inlay). Suspected killer is Rasheed Scrugs (inlay left). (Laurence Kesterson / Staff Photographer)Read more

The suspect in Friday night's murder of a Philadelphia patrolman is an "unsalvageable" career criminal who "should not have been among us, period," Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said today.

"This guy was just a cold-blooded killer who made a statement prior that if police showed up, he was going to kill them," Ramsey said. "That was his mind-set, and that was his intent."

Simmering with anger over the death of 25-year-old Officer John Pawlowski - the eighth officer to die from on-duty injuries in less than three years - Ramsey was accompanied at a midafternoon news conference by Homicide Division Capt. James Clark.

Clark identified the suspect as Rasheed Scrugs, 33, of West Philadelphia, whose decade-long rap sheet includes several aliases and multiple arrests for theft, robbery and gun crimes. Scrugs was wounded by police after Pawlowski was shot, and was in critical condition last night.

When Ramsey was asked at the news conference about the injuries to Scrugs, pain and sadness clearly overwhelmed his usual discretion and decorum.

"He wasn't hit enough. That's the only thing that matters," he said. "I don't care."

Police said the circumstances that ended the life of Pawlowski, of the 35th District in the Olney-Logan area, began about 8 p.m. when Scrugs roughed up a hack cab driver he was trying to rob near the SEPTA station at Broad Street and Olney Avenue

Scrugs - described in public records as 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds - did not display a gun, police said, and the cabbie threatened to use his cell phone to call 911.

"If you call the cops, I'll shoot you and the cops," police quoted Scrugs as saying.

The scared cabbie dialed anyway.

The first officers to arrive were Pawlowski and his partner, Officer Mark Klein, followed by Officer Stephen Mancuso as backup.

The policemen knew only that they were responding to a report of a "disturbance on the highway," the standard call for an altercation on a street.

When they encountered Scrugs, his hands were thrust deep into the pockets of his black, three-quarter-length coat, Clark said. When officers demanded that Scrugs raise his hands, he refused, Clark said.

When they demanded a second time, he said, Scrugs fired an unseen gun, presumably hidden in his pocket. Police recovered .357 Magnum shell casings and a gun at the scene.

"Officer Pawlowski was able to get off one shot, and then he went down from his injuries," Clark said.

Klein and Mancuso exchanged shots with Scrugs, hitting him several times. The officers were not wounded.

Witnesses gave differing accounts of whether Scrugs had been advancing toward the officers or retreating to flee. One investigator said it appeared Scrugs had tried to shoot his way through police.

Scrugs fired at least six shots before he collapsed. One of the slugs apparently sliced the fabric of Mancuso's jacket but missed him.

Pawlowski was pronounced dead at 8:44 p.m. at nearby Albert Einstein Medical Center. He had been wounded in his upper chest above his bulletproof vest. Another bullet had hit the vest.

Scrugs was admitted to the hospital in critical condition and underwent surgery. His condition was so grave, police said, that his heart stopped twice during the night, but he was revived. Found in his pockets, police said, were 19 .357-caliber bullets and 19 packets of crack cocaine.

He faces murder, attempted-murder and narcotics charges among a long list of offenses.

Pawlowski, a five-year veteran of the force, is from a police family. His father, John Sr., is a retired lieutenant with the Special Victims Unit. His brother, Robert, is a corporal in the radio room who was on duty Friday night.

His wife, Kim, is expecting the couple's first child.

Supervisors remembered Pawlowski as an energetic officer who thrived on action.

"He was originally assigned to the Sixth Police District, but that was too slow for him. So he asked to be reassigned to the 35th," the busy, high-crime district based at Broad and Champlost Avenue, Ramsey said.

The commissioner described Pawlowski's work ethic as "very good," and "very aggressive."

On Wednesday, Pawlowski received a merit commendation for a June arrest when he wrestled a gun from a man on a crowded SEPTA bus.

Pawlowski had gotten on the bus at 66th and Broad Streets after an exiting passenger alerted him that a gunman was on board. When the gunman pushed him to get away, the officer grabbed the man's shirt and pulled the pistol from his waistband, according to court testimony.

The pair scuffled. When they spilled out the back passenger door, the gun tumbled to the street, where the bus driver retrieved it at Pawlowski's direction.

"I felt I was fighting for my life," Pawlowski testified months later.

While police shootings are always traumatic for fellow officers, Pawlowski's death was particularly emotional because many officers were attending a fund-raiser for the family of Officer Timothy Simpson, who was killed Nov. 18 when an alleged drunk driver rammed into his cruiser.

Also at the fund-raiser was the father of Sgt. Patrick McDonald, who was gunned down Sept. 23 in North Philadelphia. Police said scores of officers had poured out of the event and raced to Einstein.

Police offered few details about Scrugs, who listed a recent address in the 4900 block of Marvine Street. A reporter who visited the block last night found no one who said they knew him.

Born in 1975, Scrugs was first arrested as an adult for shoplifting at 18. Those charges were withdrawn. Over the next three years, he was arrested several times on counts of robbery, receiving stolen property, assault and gun crimes. Many of those charges were dismissed or withdrawn by prosecutors in apparent plea bargains. The most serious charges were held for trial.

In June 1997, he pleaded guilty to robbery and carrying a fire arm without a license. Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Glazer sentenced him to a minimum of five years and a maximum 10 years in prison.

He served five years and was paroled. In 2002, he violated parole and was sent back to prison in 2004 for six months months. He was released again in 2005.

It does not appear he was on probation when he was arrested in September on charges of car theft and receiving stolen property.

His next court date on those charges is Wednesday.

Contact staff writer Michael Matza at 215-854-2541, or mmatza@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Vernon Clark contributed to this article.