Home News Philly SWAT officer fatally shot serving warrant on murder suspect

Philly SWAT officer fatally shot serving warrant on murder suspect


Chris Palmer
The Philadelphia Inquirer

A Philadelphia SWAT team officer was fatally shot early Friday in the city’s Frankford section as he was trying to arrest a man suspected of committing a murder in 2019.

Cpl. James O’Connor IV, 46, became the first officer killed in the line of duty in Philadelphia in five years.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said the 23-year veteran was a married father of two, with a son who is an officer in the Ninth District and a daughter in the Air Force.

O’Connor was shot in the shoulder above his bulletproof vest about 5:50 a.m. on the 1600 block of Bridge Street when he and other SWAT officers entered the two-story white rowhouse and bullets blasted through a closed door on the second floor, Outlaw said.

Officers had been trying to serve an arrest warrant for Hassan Elliott, 21, who the District Attorney’s Office said was wanted for a March 2019 robbery and murder in the area.

O’Connor’s colleagues returned fire after he was struck, Outlaw said, and two people behind the door were wounded by return fire and are expected to survive.

Elliott was not shot, was taken into custody, and will face chargesfor both the 2019 homicide and Friday’s shooting, authorities said.

Outlaw said at least two other people also were taken to the Homicide Unit.

O’Connor was taken to Temple University Hospital , and a large contingent of officers converged on the medical center immediately afterward, soon joined by Outlaw and by Mayor Jim Kenney.

District Attorney Larry Krasner also arrived, spoke to Outlaw in the parking lot, and left. Then Outlaw and Kenney, joined by John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, spoke to the gathered news media.

“We just want everybody to know it’s a very sad day, not just for officers here, but it’s a very sad day for the family who is here and who is mourning and is still trying to stomach all this,” Outlaw said.

Added a somber Kenney: “I would just ask everyone to keep this family in their prayers and keep all of our officers and their families in their prayers. It’s a tough job and they do their best for us every day. This is a bad day.”

“There’s not a word that you can put on the level of emotion that’s being felt right now,” said Outlaw, in her second month as the city’s top cop. “As expected, it’s a whirlwind of emotions. These are people that leave their families, their loved ones, during holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, to protect complete strangers and to do work that’s a calling. These people are led to serve.”

Kenney ordered all City of Philadelphia flags to be flown at half-staff for 30 days in O’Connor’s memory.

In a tweet offering his condolences, U.S. Attorney William McSwain said of O’Connor: “Jimmy was a hero. We owe him more than we can ever repay.”

A police honor guard later escorted O’Connor’s body from the hospital.

Outside O’Connor’s red-brick rowhouse on a tidy and quiet Northeast Philadelphia street, well-wishers and mourners streamed into the family home on an overcast Friday morning. A police vehicle blocked access to one street leading to the home while three police officers stood at the exit of the corporal’s one-way street, blocking pedestrian access.

O’Connor is the first Philadelphia police officer fatally wounded in the line of duty since March 5, 2015, when Officer Robert Wilson III was killed in gun battle with a pair of robbers inside a North Philadelphia video game store.

It was also the third shooting in 18 months in which police officers in the city were harmed while serving warrants.

Joe Sullivan, who stepped down recently as deputy commissioner and had overseen SWAT operations over the years, said he met O’Connor about 15 years ago, describing him as straightforward and honest, a man who loved his unit and helped resolve many volatile situations without incident.

“In SWAT, it’s not about rank, it’s about knowledge and experience — and he had both,” Sullivan said. “He always told it to me straight and I always followed his advice.”

Sullivan added: “He died leading his operators,” calling O’Connor’s death “an incredible loss to the city, the department, and his unit.

Sullivan said O’Connor was the sort of person who organized banquets and barbecues, remembered people’s birthdays, and let you know how much he loved his family.

Sgt. Stephen Jones of the Willistown Township Police Department in Chester County, a friend of the fallen officer, drove to O’Connor’s home Friday morning after hearing the news from a mutual friend.

“We grew up together in Kensington. He’s my best friend,” said Jones, 49, after emerging from the family’s home and walking toward his car. “He was all about family. He would do anything for his wife, children.”

Jones said O’Connor graduated from the old North Catholic High School and started in the Police Academy while in his early 20s. Policing was in O’Connor’s blood, said Jones: “His dad was a cop. His son’s a cop. All he wanted to be was a police officer.”

O’Connor had been married to his wife for almost 25 years, according to Jones, and recently became a grandfather after his son, James O’Connor V, and son’s wife had a baby. Family, friends, and off-duty police and firefighters streamed inside the house Friday morning.

“Everything’s so fresh,” said Jones. “We’re all numb. The city lost somebody they can’t replace.”

“He’s my brother,” Jones added, saying O’Connor was his daughter’s godfather.

Zema Zebekow, a neighbor, said she knew O’Connor, whom she called Jim, since his family moved into the neighborhood .

“He was very, very kind, always helpful, always looking out for the neighbors,” said Zebekow, 48. She said when she and her husband were putting in their prior above-ground pool in their yard, O’Connor “just jumped in” to help.

He was an “overall friendly guy, not one bad thing to say about him,” she said outside her home.

Hours after the shooting, a heavy police presence remained at the shooting scene.

Residents on surrounding streets awoke to find their neighborhood turned upside down but no immediate answers for why.

Patrice Bailey, 65, who has lived on the 5300 block of Hedges Street for 18 years, said she left home about 6 a.m. to take her daughter to 30th Street Station and stopped to ask a police officer what happened.

“‘You’ll see it on the news,’” he responded, she said.

After returning, she was informed of what had happened.

“I’m leaving this neighborhood,” she said, standing on her front porch. “This is a … shame, just sad. The man was trying to do his job and got killed.”

Walking by police tape blocking Bridge Street, Aquela Reed, 40, said: “I woke up to a text message asking if I was OK. Then I found out.”

“I just moved from another neighborhood and this place was OK,” she said. “It’s not. It’s shocking, it’s heartbreaking.”

Tim Wilson, a 17-year-old high school senior, said he left his home on the 5300 block of Lesher Street to walk his dog and saw the police.

“They were everywhere,” he said. “They were at the top of block, at the botton of the block, and even in the [nearby Mount Carmel] cemetery.”

Wilson said he did not ask what was happening and only found out later.

“It’s out of pocket for a cop to get shot,” he said, using an expression synonymous with out of line.

This is a developing story and will be updated.


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