Recovery positive, but long, for wounded Baldwin sergeant
A Baldwin Borough police sergeant remained in good spirits this week, even as he endured multiple surgeries to stop bleeding and repair injuries he suffered after one his colleagues accidentally shot him in the back while responding to a domestic call.
Sgt. Ralph Miller, 54, suffered a shattered hip and pelvis and possible nerve damage in his foot and remained in UPMC Mercy, Uptown, this week after a shooting early Sunday morning, Baldwin police Chief Michael Scott said.
Investigators as of Tuesday would not identify the officer who fired his weapon or those who were involved in the initial 911 call.
“He's kept a sense of humor,” Scott said.
The man who often can be seen outside the Baldwin municipal building teaching new parents how to install infant seats correctly or coordinating DUI task force patrols was worried after being shot that he might miss one of his scheduled appointments as he lay in the hospital, Scott said.
That's what stands out about Miller, Baldwin Borough Mayor Alexander Bennett said.
“He's outstanding. He never drops the ball. He's always putting his job and community first,” Bennett said.
Miller and his wife also have offered support of the officer who shot the police sergeant, Scott said.
Doctors are optimistic about Miller's recovery, Scott said. But, “it's going to be a long process.”
Allegheny County police are conducting an investigation into the shooting. Baldwin Borough police are consulting with the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office to determine if they will file charges against the residents of the home where the 911 call was initiated, Scott said.
Police initially treated the 3:45 a.m. call as a possible hostage situation, Scott said. The woman, who locked herself in a bedroom, told dispatchers that her boyfriend was distraught and carrying a loaded shotgun. Officers closed the road and created a parameter around the home, Scott said.
The woman later said the man had unloaded the gun.
A man opened the door after police knocked, only showing one hand containing a milk jug and refusing to show his other hand to Miller and the other officer at the door. The man tried to shut the door on the officers.
Miller pushed the door open, and the other officer stuck his foot in the door to keep it open, Scott said. That's when the gun went off.
Miller was struck between his belt and bulletproof vest.
Scott said the officers at the scene followed department protocol.
“It's always been our policy not to leave until the person who made the call has been found to be safe,” Scott said.
Baldwin police use a “one-plus rule” when responding to a call, meaning officers always should have one level of force above the person at the scene, Scott said. That is why the officers would have had a patrol rifle at the scene.
How the shooting occurred remains under investigation. The chief said he has no doubt the shooting was an accident. Yet, many factors likely led to the weapons firing, Scott said.
“The investigation is not complete, but it certainly would lead to support the idea that the holding open of the door” and other issues at the scene likely led to the gun firing, Scott said.
Police were trying to determine why the officer fired two rounds and why another officer, who officials did not identify, fired a third shot into the house. Those officers were placed on administrative leave. The officer who fired the weapon and hit Miller has “extensive police and military training,” Scott said.
While on administrative leave, the officers will receive peer-assistance and support, Scott said.
“It's for their well-being. It's a traumatic event,” he said.
Police union representatives referred comment to Scott. The District Attorney's Office on Monday referred comment to police.
With a shortage of officers, Baldwin police will rearrange schedules to cover shifts on the 25-member force that includes the chief, Scott said. Pennsylvania State Police provided assistance in the borough on Sunday, the chief said.
Along Miller's street of tidy brick ranch houses and split-levels, residents were stunned Monday by what had happened to the man they described as an ideal neighbor.
“Ralph's a great guy; He and (his wife) Roberta, if I need anything, they are there for me,” said Karen Holland, 54, who said the Millers have lent her their truck to move furniture and checked in on her after surgery limited her mobility. “I feel terrible, really terrible. I feel sorry for the other officer.”
Bill Wingertsahn, 64, said Miller helped investigate when neighborhood windows were broken on Halloween about five years ago.
“It's such a shame it happened to one of the real good guys,” he said as he dropped a note in the Millers' mailbox.
Council members praised Miller for his work in the department where he serves as traffic supervisor and was promoted to sergeant in 2011. Miller also is coordinator of the South Hills DUI Task Force.
“I see him as a professional. He was in charge of his crew that night. If you notice, he was the first one in,” said Councilman Larry Brown, chairman of the public safety committee.
Trib Total Media Staff writers Margaret Harding and Matthew Santoni contributed to this report. Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.