Baldwin Borough police sergeant shot by accident

Wounded in back by fellow officer during house call

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Responding to reports of a suicidal man with a shotgun, a Baldwin Borough police officer accidentally shot another officer in the back early Sunday morning, sending him to the hospital.

Allegheny County Police say the wounded officer, identified by borough officials as Sgt. Ralph Miller, 54, underwent surgery and is in stable condition. Both the officer who shot him and another officer who fired his weapon have been placed on administrative leave while authorities investigate, county police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said. He would not identify them.

"The investigation is still going on," he said. "We don't want to jeopardize anything."

The incident began with a 3:45 a.m. phone call from a home on the 5100 block of Elmwood Drive in Baldwin Borough. The caller told police her boyfriend, armed with a loaded shotgun, was distraught and threatening to harm himself. She locked herself in a bedroom and soon told dispatchers that her boyfriend had unloaded the shotgun and that they no longer needed to come.

But there were children in the house -- two girls, one 17 months old, the other 6 years old -- and police came anyway. Backed up by two Baldwin Borough officers and a Whitehall police officer, Sgt. Miller knocked on the front door, knowing there was likely a firearm in the house.

The man, who has not been identified by police, opened the door. He held a milk jug in one hand. The officers, who couldn't see his other hand and feared he was holding a gun, yelled for him to show both his hands. He refused, closing the door.

For reasons that still aren't clear, the officer behind Sgt. Miller then opened fire, squeezing off two shots from his patrol rifle. Behind him, the third Baldwin Borough officer fired a shot into the side of the house.

At least one bullet hit Sgt. Miller in the back, wounding him just below the line of his bulletproof vest.

The sergeant was taken to UPMC Mercy, where he underwent surgery. Neighbors saw paramedics lift him into the ambulance, stripped to the waist but still chatting with officers.

"He was in good spirits and was very supportive of the officer who injured him," Baldwin Borough police Chief Michael Scott said.

Turns out that the man with the milk jug wasn't armed. Officers later found his shotgun lying beside the house, but they couldn't say when it had been tossed out. He may face charges, though not in connection to the shooting.

Neighboring police departments have offered to help Baldwin Borough with patrols during the investigation, Chief Scott said.

Sgt. Miller has served on the Baldwin Borough force for 14 years and is the department's traffic officer. If you needed help installing a child's car seat, borough officials said, he was the man to go to.

At his hiring, there was some rumbling on borough council that he was too old, but his experience proved valuable on the force.

"It's a darn shame that it happened to such a good officer," said Baldwin Council member John Conley, who lives just a few houses away from where the shooting occurred.

No one answered the door at the scene of the shooting Sunday morning, an unremarkable house on a suburban street of simple two-story homes. Neighbors didn't know much about the couple who lived there and were certainly surprised to see their street fill up with police cars in the early hours of Sunday morning.

"I thought it was an explosion at the junkyard," said Jean Kimmick, who lives next door to the house in question, of the shots.

Jessica Shearer, the neighbor on the other side of the house, said her husband heard the gunshots. Later, once police had arrived, she heard the man with the milk jug telling officers, "I didn't do anything."

neigh_south

Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.


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