Suspect killed, trooper injured as police storm house in Latrobe after 18-hour standoff


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In sweltering summer heat, state police tactical officers spent nearly 17 hours exhausting one option after another with a man who refused to come out of his Latrobe home.

They negotiated, fired tear gas, deployed a robot to find the man, and played recordings of pleas from his mother and girlfriend, witnesses said. Eventually, they used name-calling, according to the witnesses.

At 11:41 a.m., in a final effort, they entered the house, and minutes later, the suspect, Scott Murphy, 46, opened fire. State police Capt. Stephen Eberle said troopers returned fire, and Mr. Murphy ultimately died of a gunshot wound. An autopsy was conducted Friday, but officials expect to release the cause and manner of death at a later date pending further investigations.

KDKA video: Gunfire exchanged during standoff

A man was killed and a tactical officer shot after an 18-hour standoff in Latrobe. This video shows SWAT team members firing into a house where a man identified as Scott Murphy had barricaded himself. (Video courtesy of KDKA; 7/19/2013)

The examination will determine whether Mr. Murphy was shot to death by a trooper or if the fatal wound was self-inflicted.

Trooper Brian King, a tactical officer at the Belle Vernon barracks with nearly 15 years on the force, was injured in the exchange.

One of Mr. Murphy's bullets shattered Trooper King's shield. He underwent surgery on his eye Friday evening at UPMC Presbyterian, though the specific nature of the eye injury was unknown, state police spokeswoman Trooper Robin Mungo said.

She said he was in good spirits as he went in for the surgery. Police earlier Friday described his condition as stable.

"That shield saved his life," Capt. Eberle said.

Mr. Murphy was accused of stealing hundreds of Oxycontin pills from a Latrobe pharmacy Thursday afternoon. A witness took note of a suspect's license plate that led officers to the Lloyd Avenue home. When they arrived, he refused to leave the home, which he shared with his mother and stepfather.

Neighbors who watched the events play out seemed perplexed by the name-calling as a tactic to persuade Mr. Murphy to emerge.

"At first, they were real nice," said Danielle Mathews, 42, who lives across the street with her 17-year-old daughter, Kelsey.

Later, the two said, officers said things like, "Man up, and just come out."

Reporters standing further down Lloyd Avenue could also hear negotiators use terms such as "wuss baby" and "little girl" as they spoke through a loudspeaker.

"Your mom and sister are bigger men than you," police told Mr. Murphy.

Capt. Eberle would not elaborate on the police protocol in negotiating with suspects.

Rob Cartner, full-time training director for the National Tactical Officers Association, said each standoffs has its own dynamics.

"There's just no hard-and-fast, set-in-stone rules on these things," he said. "It's basically being driven by the suspect to some degree."

Negotiators typically will try to establish rapport with the suspect on the phone, he said, and develop some common ground.

"Eventually, if nothing else is working and frustration starts setting in ... that might be one of those things, well you go, 'Nothing else has worked so this is all we've got left,' " he said.

Clinical and forensic psychologist Laurence Miller, who has a doctorate degree, said using words such as "wuss" could have been a tactic of the team in Latrobe on Friday. But, he said, generally, insulting words can alienate the suspect.

"A lot of times, we can second-guess what is said during a critical situation," Mr. Miller said. "But one of the basic rules of [crisis] negotiation 101 is that you don't insult the person who has life or death control over another person."

Both men stressed that they hadn't independently examined the situation and were speaking generally about their expertise.

Police first went to the house about 6:30 p.m. Thursday. State police suspected Mr. Murphy was involved in the robbery of the Precision Care Pharmacy in Latrobe about 2:45 p.m. that day.

When they arrived, authorities removed relatives who were in the home with Mr. Murphy.

The heat was blistering at the peak of the standoff in the residential neighborhood, especially after officials shut off power to homes in the area. The wind carried a thick cloud of tear gas all through the neighborhood affecting bystanders.

Sharon Sherback, 43, who lives on the street, said the tear gas wafted to where she watched the action.

"At one point, you heard this big bang, and I thought, 'Oh man, this is burning my throat.' "

Ms. Sherback's family said they heard 20 or 30 shots fired.

Not long afterward, SWAT officers began taking off their helmets, hugging and shaking hands.

Inside the house, state police said they found a handgun and a rifle.

PG VIDEO

Mr. Murphy married Lisa P. Simms on Nov. 17, 1990, according to Westmoreland County marriage records. Ms. Murphy died at UPMC Presbyterian in December 2011, according to an obituary posted on the website for John J. Lopatich Funeral Home, Inc., which coordinated her funeral arrangements. Her death was ruled natural.

Ms. Sherback said Mr. Murphy has two sons, 21 and 23, who were with her daughter Friday afternoon.

Online court records show that Mr. Murphy was charged with misdemeanor crimes a few times in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but not for violent incidents.

In December 2001, he was charged via summons with theft, receiving stolen property and conspiring to receive stolen property in an incident that prompted a judge to ban him from contacting American Legion 515. He completed the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for first-time offenders.

Because the case is more than 12 years old, details -- and the details of others -- were not immediately clear.

In January of 2002, Mr. Murphy was charged via summons with retail theft in Hempfield on Dec. 14, 2001. He pleaded guilty and received one year of probation.

And in June 2005, Latrobe police arrested him on a use/possession of drug paraphernalia charge to which he pleaded guilty, receiving six months of probation.

Westmoreland County Coroner Kenneth Bacha will hold an inquest, standard procedure for an officer-involved shooting.

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Liz Navratil contributed. First Published July 19, 2013 12:30 PM


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