The Philadelphia attorney drawn into last week’s standoff between an armed man accused of shooting six Philadelphia police officers critiqued the “overly bravado” tone and negotiating tactics of police officers he heard on a conference call during the tense night last week.
And the suspected shooter’s sister credited the attorney for “saving (her) brother’s life.”
“I’m no expert in the subject matter, but I’m an attorney and I’ve done negotiations. And usually in negotiations it’s give a little, get a little,” said Shaka Johnson, a lawyer who has represented alleged shooter Maurice Hill on past criminal matters. “Maybe that was textbook police negotiating. But it wouldn’t have gotten me to do a damn thing.”
Hill, 36, who has an extensive criminal record, was charged over the weekend with attempted murder, multiple counts of aggravated assault and assault on law enforcement officers in the aftermath of the 7½-hour standoff in the 3700 block of North 15th Street in which hundreds of bullets were fired at officers from an assault rifle.
Hill surrendered shortly after midnight after police officers used tear gas on the house.
Johnson, 44, whom Hill calls “Unc” — short for uncle — was the first person to speak with Hill while he was holed up in the house. The two exchanged text messages for hours, and had private phone conversations and a conference call with District Attorney Larry Krasner, Police Commissioner Richard Ross and negotiators.
Johnson said he felt the primary negotiator was doing more “to escalate the situation than to defuse it” and was “placing Hill’s life in greater jeopardy in what was a very tenuous situation.”
Johnson said there were times during the ordeal when he and Hill were the only ones on the phone, and Johnson felt he was close to getting Hill to surrender. But then a negotiator would break through the line and shout at Hill. “I had to ask him to get off the phone, which he did,” Johnson said.
Johnson felt the officer was “being overly bravado” and always “spoke more aggressively” than the situation called for.
“I don’t know their protocol; I’m just a guy. But it did not sound good to me,” Johnson said.
Philadelphia police Capt. Sekou Kinnebrew, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Police Department, said in an email, “the best I can tell you is that negotiators rely on standard best practices, but have to be fluid and adaptable, because of the dynamic nature of hostage and barricade situations.”
For most of the afternoon and evening Wednesday, Johnson had been communicating with Hill and the others from his home.
That was until he got word from Ross that police were “going to make a move.”
Ross did not tell Johnson what that meant, Johnson said. “He said, ‘Thanks, Shaka, for all you did and all you tried to do.”
Johnson made another call to Hill and told him he was “running out of time.”
In another call with Ross minutes later, the police commissioner made a concession, telling Johnson he could speak with Hall on a police bullhorn if he could arrive at the scene by 11:45 p.m.
Johnson hopped in his car and raced to the scene, making it with minutes to spare, all the while still on the phone with Hill. Police outfitted Johnson with a bulletproof vest and escorted him through the barricades to the command center not far from the house where Hill was.
Police gave Johnson a bullhorn and gave him one last chance to draw Hill out.
“I used words like ‘Gruff’ and ‘Neph’ when I was speaking to him, words that would let him know that this was me that I was there, and that this was very real,” Johnson said.
Moments later, shortly after midnight, police fired tear gas into the home and Hill came out with his hands raised over his head in a sign of surrender.
‘He didn’t want to see my brother killed’
Chanell White, Hill’s older sister by a year, had spoken with her brother on the phone about 30 minutes before police went to the 3700 block of North 15th Street to serve a warrant on a house near where Hill was and the standoff began.
As she watched events unfold on television, several people called and texted White to tell her that her brother was the suspected shooter.
“The streets were talking,” said White, 37, who spoke with her brother on Monday. “I was crying all afternoon, and when I saw his name on television it brought it home.”
White has known Johnson for about a half decade — “ever since he started representing my brother.”
“I think it’s because of Unc that I can at least go and visit my brother and not have to go to a cemetery to see him,” White said. “I am hurt and I am humbled. But I know how much he cares for my brother and our family. He didn’t want to see my brother killed. I’m grateful for that.”