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Baldwin police sergeant accidentally shot by fellow officer, investigators say

| Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, 10:42 a.m.
Baldwin police Chief Mike Scott recounts the shooting of one of his officers Sunday, February 10, 2013. One officer accidentally shot a fellow officer in the back while they were responding to to a call. The injured officer was conscious and alert when he was taken to the hospital.   Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Baldwin police Chief Mike Scott recounts the shooting of one of his officers Sunday, February 10, 2013. One officer accidentally shot a fellow officer in the back while they were responding to to a call. The injured officer was conscious and alert when he was taken to the hospital. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

A Baldwin Borough police officer accidentally shot a fellow officer in the back as they responded to a report of a man with a gun inside a home early Sunday, Allegheny County police said.

The wounded officer, identified as Sgt. Ralph Miller, was conscious and alert when he was taken to UPMC Mercy, Uptown, Baldwin police Chief Michael Scott said.

“He was in good spirits,” Scott said. “He was certainly very supportive of the officer that injured him.”

Miller, 54, suffered a shattered hip and pelvis and possible nerve damage in a foot, Scott said. The amount of swelling and bleeding prevented doctors from completely assessing his injuries, Scott said. Miller underwent three surgeries, and a fourth was planned for Monday. He was in and out of consciousness throughout the day.

“We're just hoping for the best,” Scott said.

County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt did not identify the officer who fired two shots from his patrol rifle.

The officers were among four responding to a 911 call received about 3:45 a.m. A woman told dispatchers her boyfriend was distraught and carrying a loaded shotgun as he walked around the home they share with their two young children, Moffatt said.

The woman locked herself in a bedroom, then told dispatchers the man had calmed down and unloaded his weapon, Moffatt said.

Three officers from Baldwin and one from Whitehall responded to the home in the 5100 block of Elmwood Drive, police said.

Miller, who has at least 14 years on the force, knocked on the door while a second Baldwin officer moved into a backup position behind him, police said.

A man answered the door but refused repeated orders to show both hands, showing one holding a milk jug, Moffatt said.

Miller could see a woman holding a child in the house and wanted to speak with her when the man began shutting the door, Scott said. The second Baldwin officer put his foot in the door, and Miller put his shoulder into the door to try to force it open wider, Scott said.

The second officer fired two shots with his patrol rifle, striking Miller between the bottom of his bulletproof vest and his belt. It's unclear whether Miller was hit once or twice. Police could not find the second slug from the officer's gun, Moffatt said.

Neither Moffatt nor Scott could say why the officer fired.

“That's what we're still trying to sort out,” Moffatt said.

Police sent the rifle to the Allegheny County Crime Lab for analysis and to check for a possible mechanical problem, Scott said.

Scott said he doesn't know whether the second officer realizes how or why the shooting happened.

“That's why they want to take a look at the weapon,” he said.

When Miller fell, a third Baldwin officer fired a shot and hit the house, Moffatt said. Police did not release that officer's name.

The two who fired their weapons have been placed on administrative leave, and the department has brought in grief counselors.

No one else was wounded, and no charges have been filed as county police investigate, Moffatt said. Police said the man's shotgun was thrown out the window of the home.

Scott said the officers followed their training. They set up a perimeter, blocked off roads and approached with their patrol rifles, he said.

“We follow the one-plus rule, one level above the force the person has,” Scott said. “It's not supposed to be fair. We're going to take every precaution we can,” and everything went well up until the point of the shooting, he said.

“It's just a thing we need to find out exactly why it happened and ensure it doesn't happen again,” Scott said.

Scott said Baldwin police recently refreshed training on responding to domestic calls because of an incident on New Year's Eve, when two Pittsburgh officers responding to a woman's 911 call left without talking to her. The woman's boyfriend said everything was OK and refused to open the door to police. She later was found dead in her home, and her boyfriend confessed to killing her before committing suicide, authorities said.

Miller is the department's traffic supervisor and coordinator of the South Hills DUI Task Force. He runs the borough's infant car seat installation program.

Scott said Miller worried after the shooting because he was supposed to help a woman install a car seat, and he wanted to make sure it was rescheduled.

Miller held no ill feelings toward the officer who fired the shots, Scott said.

“He understood that's the risk you run, and he understood that nobody felt worse than the one who did it,” Scott said. Miller's wife also was supportive of the other officer, Scott said.

A man and woman at the home where the 911 call originated declined to comment on Sunday.

The “pop, pop, pop” awakened neighbors on both sides of the house where the shooting happened.

“It sounded more like a cannon,” said Jean Kimmick, 75, a 40-year resident of the street. “I was shocked, just shocked.”

The couple involved in the domestic call are quiet and keep to themselves, neighbors said. They have two daughters, neighbors said.

The couple's names were not released.

Baldwin Mayor Alexander Bennett, who served on the Baldwin police force for more than 20 years, called Miller one of the department's finest officers.

“He's outstanding,” he said. “He never drops the ball. He's always putting his job and community first.”

Bennett declined to comment on specifics of the incident.

Miller is the first Baldwin police officer to be shot while on duty, Bennett said.

Trib Total Media staff writer Stephanie Hacke contributed to this report.

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