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December 07, 2009
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Pa. officer responding to home disturbance killed

Officer Michael Crawshaw was ambushed as he sat in his patrol car

The Associated Press

PENN HILLS, Pa. — A suburban Pittsburgh police officer awaiting backup was fatally shot in his parked patrol car by a man who emerged from a home moments after killing someone over a $500 drug debt, police said.

Penn Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw, 32, was the first to respond to a 911 call made around 8:20 p.m. Sunday. Crawshaw was advised to wait in his patrol car because of past problems reported at the home and because dispatchers heard shots over the phone, Penn Hills Chief Howard Burton said.

Expert Perspective

PoliceOne talks to well-known trainer John Farnam about ambush avoidance:

“There are several things to keep in mind relative to officer survival principles when in a patrol unit,” Farnam says. “One of them is to remember that sitting in a stationary squad can put you in a ‘sitting duck’ position. You’re in a confined space, your location is very easily identified and if you’re in a nighttime or other low-light setting, you may be illuminated by your MDT screen or, worse yet, an activated interior light, thus making target acquisition much easier for a would-be assassin. If you’re in a squad, my advice is to keep that squad in motion. It’s much more difficult to hit a moving target.”

Situational awareness is also critical, although admittedly challenging, Farnam observes. “Today’s officers are constantly driven to look down in their squad cars; at their computer screens, cell phones, personal computing devices and/or their radio or patrol unit gear. As challenging as it can be, it’s imperative to resist falling into the trap of keeping your head down for prolonged periods of time when in your squad, particularly if you’re at the scene of a call. Be sure to consistently glance up and around. Look through your windshield and side windows and check all of your mirrors to spot anyone approaching.”

Read for more tips: Reminders for avoiding an ambush

Ronald Robinson, 31, walked out of the home and opened fire as he approached Crawshaw's car, Allegheny County Police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said Monday. Robinson used "some kind of assault rifle" - possibly an AK-47 - judging by shell casings found at the scene, Moffatt said.

"The gunman exits, sees the officer there, so he takes it upon himself to open fire upon the officer as he sits inside his car," Moffatt said.

The officer's weapon was removed from his holster, showing that he might have been able to draw his .45-caliber Glock pistol and fire a shot, Moffatt said. Police were still investigating.

Robinson fired at least nine shots at the officer, Moffatt said. Three or four hit Crawshaw, including a single fatal shot to the head, said Dr. Karl Williams, county medical examiner. An autopsy is planned.

Police were able to locate Robinson, of Pittsburgh, because he was on parole and wearing an electronic ankle bracelet, Moffatt said. He has an arrest record for drug and firearms charges and was paroled after in August 2007 after serving time for carrying an unlicensed firearm.

Robinson was charged with burglary and two counts of homicide after he went to police for questioning about 4 a.m. Monday, Moffatt said. It was not clear whether he had an attorney, and court documents were not available because Robinson hadn't been arraigned.

Crawshaw was taken to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly before 9 p.m.

The other victim, Danyal Morton, 40, who lived at the house, had been the one to call 911 and was found dead in a second-floor bathroom, Moffatt said.

Morton owed Robinson $500 for either cocaine or heroin from a drug deal Saturday, Moffatt said. Both shootings occurred within four minutes, judging by 911 records and police logs.

The slain officer apparently heard gunfire as he sat in his car awaiting backup officers and was shot moments later, Moffatt said.

"He didn't go rushing in by himself; he wasn't (trying to be) a hero," Burton said.

Morton has a criminal record dating to 1991, including two prison terms for burglary, records show.

Another man who sometimes lived in the home was also present during the shooting, but police could not explain why he was not shot, Moffatt said. He made a second call to 911, police said.

Neighbors reported hearing about 10 gunshots at the home in Penn Hills, a middle-class community about 10 miles east of Pittsburgh.

No crime scene tape was visible outside the two-story brick home, and no one answered the door or the phone. Schoolchildren walked to bus stops in the neighborhood.

Robert Cephas, 57, who lives next door, said that he wasn't home at the time, but that his wife and grandkids were.

"They were hitting the floor, my grandkids did," he said.

Crawshaw was a three-year member of the force and had worked at the University of Pittsburgh police department, Burton said.

"Officer Crawshaw was a fine officer, and Penn Hills was lucky to have him patrolling our community," Mayor Anthony DeLuca Jr. said.

Gov. Ed Rendell ordered state flags to fly at half staff in honor of Crawshaw, whose brother, Matthew Crawshaw, is also a police officer in suburban Pittsburgh.

The slain officer is the fourth to be killed on duty in Allegheny County this year. Pittsburgh officers Eric Kelly, Stephen Mayhle and Paul Sciullo were fatally shot in a gun battle while responding to a call at a home in April.

Associated PressCopyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

The last time a Penn Hills officer was killed in the line of duty was March 25, 1972, when Sgt. William Schrott and Officer Bartley Connolly Jr. were shot while trying to catch an armed robber at a shopping center.

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