Police fired 80 rounds in killing

The commissioner said there was concern about the rate of fire and some officers would be retrained.

Posted: July 10, 2007

Seven police officers fired up to 85 rounds at a "deranged" man who was killed while pacing with a gun on a South Philadelphia streetcorner, authorities said yesterday.

Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson said police shot the man, who was speaking incoherently, after he did not respond to repeated orders to drop the weapon Sunday evening and pointed it at the officers.

Steven Miller, 30, of the 1600 block of South Taney Street, had a fully loaded pistol but did not fire, officials said.

Two officers required treatment for friendly-fire graze wounds from ricocheting bullet fragments or debris.

Johnson, calling the two "very lucky," said police officials were concerned about the number of rounds fired. He said that some officers would be retrained as a result and that the department was looking at weapons training overall.

The incident was the year's ninth fatal shooting by Philadelphia police. Last year, police were involved in 22 fatal shootings, including two outside the city, the most since such recordkeeping began in 1980.

Residents told a different, more detailed story about the death of Miller on the corner of Tasker and Taney Streets.

They said the barrage of gunfire was unleashed when one officer, who was standing about 30 yards away on Taney and apparently out of the view of the other police on Tasker Street, opened fire after telling the man to drop the gun.

Some residents said the officers on Tasker were attempting to coax Miller, who was known as "Butta," to drop the gun when they heard the first shot and opened fire themselves.

"He spooked the other cops," said Clarence Sayles, who said he spent a half-hour with another neighbor trying to get Miller to drop the gun before police arrived.

"The cops on Tasker Street were doing the best they could," he said. "They almost got him to drop the gun."

Johnson acknowledged that some of the officers might have fired because they thought "they were being fired on by this individual."

A trail of evidence circles marking where shell casings apparently fell led from where residents said the officer on Taney fired to the corner.

Some neighbors said the officer, who, like Miller, was black, emptied his clip and reloaded. They said other officers hustled the patrolman into a car and away from the scene shortly after the shooting.

Johnson said that officers had been on the scene for four or five minutes and that the corner was empty before Miller pointed the gun and officers fired 80 to 85 rounds.

"They did not react until the man pointed the gun," the commissioner said, noting police had responded to more than a dozen 911 calls about Miller, who had an arrest record that included weapons offenses.

Neighbors said Miller, whose grandmother recently died and whose father is in a hospital, apparently was high on "wet" - a combination of marijuana mixed with embalming fluid - which is known to cause psychosis.

Johnson, who described Miller as "acting deranged," said Miller was armed with a .40-caliber H&K semiautomatic pistol that had been stolen in September. It was loaded with 14 rounds, he said.

Angry neighbors said that police continued to fire even after Miller fell wounded and that one officer fired twice at close range when the man moved his head.

Johnson said that Miller got up after he had been hit "three or four times" and continued to point the weapon until he fell a second time under police fire.

The Medical Examiner's Office said yesterday that Miller died of multiple gunshot wounds, without specifying how many times he had been hit.

"It wasn't necessary," resident Paul Allen Sr. said. "Anybody could tell something was wrong with him."

"The guy was down, and they kept shooting," Don Wilson said.

Sayles, echoed by other residents, said Miller did not point the gun directly at anyone except himself.

Yesterday, a makeshift memorial of stuffed animals and a Muslim prayer on poster board surrounded the utility pole where Miller fell and where spots of dried blood remained.

Nearby walls were pocked by bullets.

Sayles pointed to where one bullet hit the windowsill of his home, not far from where he said he was standing when the shooting erupted.

All seven officers who fired their weapons have been placed on administrative duty while the shooting is investigated by police Internal Affairs and the District Attorney's Office.

Chief Inspector William Colarulo of Internal Affairs said officers are at a disadvantage in such situations because "we have to react to what the perpetrator is going to do, and it is hard for us to assume what they are going to do until they make some kind of overt movement."

Said Johnson: "It's hard to sit back later on to say what they should or should not have done."

Contact staff writer Joseph A. Gambardello at 215-854-2153 or jgambardello@phillynews.com.

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