PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross was personally involved in the negotiations with the suspect who allegedly shot six Philadelphia police officers in a shootout that lasted seven hours in the city’s Nicetown-Tioga section on Wednesday. Ross says he stepped in when he found out there were two officers and three people trapped on the second floor of the building on the 3700 block of North 15th Street.
He was concerned that the suspect, 36-year-old Maurice Hill, would go up to the second floor at any moment and engage the officers in gunfire.
“My biggest concern the entire time [was] that he was going to go running up those steps, because he knew someone was there, particularly the police officers, and he was going to engage them in gunfire,” Ross said on Thursday morning. “That was my significant concern. I was worried about that from the moment I found out until the moment we got them out.”
After bringing a negotiator to the scene, Ross asked if they thought it would help for him to step in given his rank and they agreed he should try.
This was the first time Ross has been involved in the negotiations of a hostage situation and he made it clear that if no one else was in the house with Hill, he would not have been involved.
“And to be quite candid with you, if there were no one in that home with him, I wouldn’t have been that close,” Ross said. “But I just couldn’t have my police officers trapped like that. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself from 200 feet away and someone needing to ask a critical question about a tactical injury and I’m not standing there close enough for them to respond.”
Ross said this was something he would not normally do, but given the gravity of the situation, he decided to take part in negotiations.
“Something I would not normally do and the reason I did it is because I was so worried about those police officers. And my intent for being at the scene, my commanders didn’t want me there and I understand, just out of concern. But the way it unfolds is I’m not going anywhere because these two officers are up there trapped. I couldn’t be around the corner, I have to know real-time that they’re OK,” Ross explained.
Hill’s attorney, Shaka Johnson, played a role in his surrender, which happened shortly after midnight on Thursday.
After hours of negotiation, Ross says Johnson was able to engage Hill in conversation and in an unusual situation, he joined police efforts to get him to surrender.
At one point Ross, Johnson and Hill were on a three-way call, as the commissioner was trying to appeal to him with reasons he had to live.
They spoke significantly about his newborn daughter.
While Johnson, who’s known Hill for a decade or more, played a role in bringing him out of the home, Ross says tear gas ultimately extricated him.
“I appreciate [his attorney] coming. Using him was unorthodox but again it was a very unusual circumstance. Not normally we would we resort to including someone else. Not that we never did that before but it’s not optimal,” Ross said.
The incident started around 4:30 p.m. when police were serving a narcotics warrant and the suspect opened fire. The warrant was based from drug buys that were made.
It’s unclear if Hill was the target of that warrant at this time but he does have a long criminal history dating back to 2000, including several gun charges as well as drug and assault charges.
Ross says many residents have been able to return to their homes but some are still evacuated because of the tear gas.
The area is still considered an active crime scene while authorities continue to investigate.
Daylight shows investigators on scene of shootout in Nicetown-Tioga section that left 6 @PhillyPolice officers shot, all expected to survive, suspect now out of hospital, in custody@CBSPhilly pic.twitter.com/Pv46UlRI9W
— Chantee Lans CBS Philadelphia (@ChanteeLans) August 15, 2019
CBS3’s Dan Koob spent Thursday talking to SWAT and crisis negotiators in New Jersey to get a sense of how this works.
The No. 1 thing they said was as soon as you hit the ground, it’s all about deescalation, finding out the tone and tenor of the gunman and establishing a rapport with the person on the other end of the line.
In Wednesday’s case, Ross said he created leverage when they found out Hill had a two-day-old daughter.
Former Mount Laurel SWAT team leader Corey Jones says that could have been the key.
“It becomes very personal. You develop an empathy, nobody wants anybody to get hurt,” Jones said. “No officer that I know ever wanted any suspect or defendant to get hurt so we want a safe outcome.
“People may not care about themselves in that situation. They may just see ‘my life is over as it is,’ but your impact on those close to you, that’s still personal,” Jones said.
Ross thanked the bravery of the Philadelphia police officers involved and the cooperation from the community during the standoff.
“Again we celebrate the work of everybody, uniform, detectives, everybody that was their yesterday and played a significant role in bringing this to as positive resolution as you can possibly imagine. We had officers sustain gunshot wounds. As I said before, given the gravity of the situation it could have been far worst we are thankful for that,” Ross said.
All six police officers were released from the hospital Wednesday night. A seventh officer, who was injured in a car crash while responding to the scene, remains in the hospital. That officer’s condition is not known.
CBS3’s Alyssa Adams and Dan Koob contributed to this report.