Friday, September 21, 2007

Deputy's killer to mom: I want to die in a shootout

A report reveals the gunman's final actions.
Published September 21, 2007

TAMPA -- Michael A. Phillips died just as he told his mother he wanted to -- in a police shootout after killing a cop.

That cop was Hillsborough sheriff's Sgt. Ronald "Ron" Harrison, a 27-year veteran.

As far as investigators can tell, the only thing the men had in common before the morning of Aug. 15 was a convenience store they both frequented.

One for coffee, the other for blunts, cigars commonly used for smoking pot.

A report released Thursday details Phillips' final words and actions in hundreds of pages of interviews with witnesses, friends, family and neighbors.

The lengthy account paints a picture of a violent, drug-addled man with a "one-second mind" feared by even his mother, but leaves unanswered two nagging questions: Did Phillips intend the morning of Aug. 15 to be his last? And did he deliberately choose Harrison as his victim?

Harrison died just before 1 a.m. When deputies arrived, the 55-year-old had no pulse. He sat with his seat belt still on, in a squad car spattered with blood.

They pulled him from the cruiser and tried to administer CPR. But a single .45-caliber bullet from one of Phillips' stolen guns had entered his back near his right armpit, punctured both his lungs and already killed him. Another pierced his back.

Bullet casings littered the cruiser and the intersection at Lumsden Road and Kings Avenue. Not one was from Harrison's gun.

* * *

Tuesday Aug. 14

Phillips was distraught. He was looking at 30 years in prison, the permanent loss of custody of his son and the final end of his relationship with Rosa Bradley.

Bradley, 21, the mother of their 3-year-old son, arrived at his Brandon home at noon. They'd had a tortured history, one she told deputies made her fear for her life and those of her family.

For four hours, they talked about the future, had sex and said goodbye.

But Phillips was agitated, Bradley said. He showed her a letter from Hillsborough Kids that said he wouldn't getcustody of their son. His lawyer had told him he was looking at up to 30 years in prison for two new felonies committed while awaiting trial on another charge.

At one point, he pinned Bradley down and told her that she needed to be there for their son because he wouldn't be around, according to Bradley. She assumed he was talking about his impending prison sentence.

As she left his home, she recalled to deputies, Phillips' friend Eric Lee Jordan came and picked him up.

* * *

Jordan, 24, said he and Phillips spent much of the day together. The two went to a liquor store to buy a bottle of Grey Goose vodka and stopped at Jordan's grandmother's house. Later, at 8 p.m., Jordan said, the two of them went to a woman's house in Gibsonton, where they drank and took turns having sex with Jordan's friend.

Jordan told deputies he dropped Phillips off at his Brandon house at 10:30 p.m., and Phillips told him, "I need to get money."

"I'm not with it," Jordan responded.

* * *

Phillips' mother, Regina Van Amburg, had been sleeping when he roused her at midnight to ask if he could borrow her truck. She said no, told him to get out of her room and went back to sleep.

Around 1 a.m., Phillips called Bradley and said he had shot a cop. She heard him fire a gunshot. He threatened to kill her and her family.

Minutes later, he called back.

"Oh my God, the cops are surrounding my house," he told her. "They're onto me. I'm done."

* * *

Phillips woke up his mother.

"He said, 'I'm going to jail, Mom, and I'm never coming back this time,'" Van Amburg told detectives. She heard him rummaging around his bedroom. He told her he was "hiding stuff" and was leaving. But he never left.

"He came back in my room again and said, 'Mom, I can't get outta the house this time. It's surrounded.'"

Van Amburg didn't believe him. She went back to sleep. The phone woke her up. It was the Sheriff's Office, asking if Michael was home.

"Ma'am, I can't find him," she told the woman on the phone.

"There's deputies at the front door," the woman told her. "You need to go to the front door, open the front door and walk outside with your hands up in the air."

"I have a 4-year-old kid in here," Van Amburg said. "I want my kid." Ordered to leave, Van Amburg went outside.

At 2:05 a.m., a 4-year-old boy walked out the front door and into the front yard alone. A corporal ran to him and carried him to safety.

Outside, Van Amburg waited. She told deputies her son might be hiding in the attic or garage. She also said Phillips had always wanted to kill a cop and die in a police shootout.

* * *

As deputies swarmed the house, Phillips threatened to come out the front door and start shooting in six seconds.

"I've seen the movies," he told crisis negotiator Danny Johnson on the phone. "If you wanna talk to me, have to come out, strip down, twirl in front of me, show me you don't have any guns, twirl around in front of my house."

He referred to the movies, Heat and Inside Man, which feature cop-crook standoffs.

He yelled out "Heil Hitler!" -- a Nazi phrase not out of character for a man a detention deputy remembers telling him the Holocaust was fabricated.

He told Johnson he wanted to die, and began a countdown. "Six, five, four ..."

Deputy Shawn Dugan, 29, positioned across the street by a large tree about 40 yards from the house, saw muzzle flashes from a second second-floor window -- four to eight shots, fired rapidly from what he thought was a semiautomatic pistol.

Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.

Then, BOOM. The boisterous sound of a sniper's rifle.

Deputy Robert Scott Carr, 31, had fired back. The shots from Phillips stopped.

Still on the phone with a negotiator, Phillips said he had been hit in his left shoulder.

Ten to 15 minutes passed, Dugan estimated. Another shot came from the window. A couple of more minutes passed. Another shot from the window. Dugan heard debris raining around him, either because Phillips' round had hit nearby or broken glass from the window was falling around him.

Dugan, a former Marine, added a night vision attachment to his .308 Winchester police rifle to get a better view.

About 15 to 20 minutes passed. Phillips still threatened to shoot deputies.

A sheriff's major gave Dugan the go-ahead to "neutralize the suspect." The sniper saw Phillips walking toward the window, talking on the phone. He centered his shot on Phillips' chest and fired once.


"After that," Dugan said, "I saw him fall."

Only moans came through the phone.

* * *

When investigators reached Phillips, they found a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun by his side, still cocked.

Times staff writer Justin George contributed to this report.

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