A Marine veteran has been arrested in Friday’s shooting death of a Kissimmee Police officer, and there is “not much hope” a second officer he’s accused of shooting will survive, Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell said this morning.
Police arrested 45-year-old Everett Glenn Miller Saturday morning on charges of first-degree murder, resisting arrest and carrying a concealed weapon, according to the Osceola County Jail.
Officer Matthew Baxter was killed and Sgt. Richard “Sam” Howard was shot and is in grave condition, O’Dell said. The uniformed officers were investigating three suspicious people in the area of Palmway and Cypress streets about 9:30 p.m. Five minutes later, dispatchers received the first call reporting the officers had been shot.
The officers did not have time to return fire. O’Dell said “it looked like they were surprised” by the gunfire.
Miller fled to Roscoe’s Bar at 2344 N. Orange Blossom Trail, where Osceola County Sheriff’s Office detectives found him about 11:30 p.m. When the officers approached him, Miller reached for his waistband — but a fast-acting deputy tackled him to the ground and arrested him, O’Dell said.
“Extremely brave and heroic actions by the deputy, there were other people in the vicinity,” O’Dell said. “They went hands-on, tackled him to the ground and secured him [and] located a a 9mm and .22 revolver on his person.”
The Sheriff’s Office recently took Miller into custody under Florida’s Baker Act, which allows involuntary commitment of people in mental health crises.
Baxter, 27, was married to a fellow Kissimmee Police officer and had four young children, O’Dell said. Howard, 36, has one child.
“They are both wonderful men, family men. They are both very committed to the community,” O’Dell said. “They were the epitome of what you ask for in law enforcement officers.”
Baxter and Howard were wearing body armor underneath their uniforms when they were shot, O’Dell said. Howard is a 10-year veteran of the department and Baxter had been with the Kissimmee department for three years.
As of 9 a.m. Saturday, Howard remained in critical condition; O’Dell said there was “not much hope that he will survive this.”
O’Dell said officers plan to put Baxter’s handcuffs on Miller when they take him to the Osceola County Jail Saturday.
O’Dell said he did not expect to make any additional arrests.
“This is a tough time for each and every one of us,” O’Dell said.
O’Dell said the news is especially difficult for members of his agency, as they must press forward while suffering the loss of a coworker and friend.
“We do not get to stop and cry for someone we’ve lost or mourn our hero,” O’Dell said. “At the time we go through it, the men and women of law enforcement are required to continue working and bring this individual to justice.”
O’Dell said the community needs to work with law enforcement. Social media posts showed Miller threatening law enforcement, O’Dell said, “but we never got a call on that.’’
Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr. said he couldn’t believe the news.
"It's just awful. We're praying for the families of these officers and for the whole KPD family," he said.
The last officer killed on the job was shot in 1983.
Carlos Santiago, 37, was driving with his wife and daughter back from dinner Friday night when they saw dozens of patrol cars speed past them on Orange Blossom Trail.
"They were just flying," he said. "It was pretty obvious something bad had happened."
The area where the shooting happened is McLaren Circle, which has historically been plagued by crime. O’Dell said Howard and Baxter were doing proactive police work there because it is known for drug sales. In 2008, law enforcement led a crackdown on drugs and violence that “ravaged the McLaren Circle area,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Officers arrested 19 people during that operation, and witnesses in subsequent court cases testified crime was so rampant that mobile businesses such as FedEx, UPS, pizza delivery and taxi services “refused to enter the area to provide services to residents.” Even the U.S. Postal Service stopped its route through the neighborhood for a time.
"It's fairly well known as not a great area. It's pretty rundown compared to the rest of the city and it's known for having more crime," Santiago said.
While the media waited for O'Dell to address the public in front of the emergency entrance at Osceola Regional Medical Center on Friday night, two women were being escorted out of the building by two police officers. They were both crying and huddled before they saw the lights and cameras outside and dashed back into the building.
At least four Osceola deputies were stationed by the south entrance to the hospital, wearing body armor and carrying heavy guns, standing next to their patrol cars.
Alexis Nieves, 27, was driving to see a friend when she got stopped at a red light on Orange Blossom Trail and U.S. Highway 192.
She saw a few cop cars then dozens started arriving to the intersection. She looked to her left and saw an officer with a long gun, the she saw a person being loaded into an ambulance. There were helicopters circling the in the area.
Emergency crews were doing CPR and trying to resuscitate the person. Nieves didn't know it was an officer who had been shot.
"I just started crying," she said. "I didn't know what to think. It's so sad."
Nieves said she saw said more than 80 law enforcement vehicles flooding the area, along with fire trucks and EMS vehicles.
"I was in the middle of it all and couldn't believe what was happening," she said. "I called my friend in tears. I've never seen anything like that."
Messages of support flowed in from across the country.
On its Twitter account, the Orlando Police Department said, “Please keep @kissimmeepolice in your prayers tonight.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office also offered its own message of comfort, saying, “Our solidarity is with @kissimmeepolice as they deal with this tragic loss.”
Even President Donald Trump sent thoughts and prayers to the Kissimmee Police.
O'Dell praised other police agencies, including the Osceola and Orange sheriff's offices and Orlando Police Department, for their help.
“Everyone came to the scene without being asked,” Odell said.
Kissimmee Police has more than 100 officers. O’Dell took over the department in August 2016.
Two Jacksonville police officers were also shot on the Westside of Jacksonville, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Two Pennsylvania Troopers were also reported shot late Friday.
It has also been a dangerous year for law enforcement in Central Florida. Lt. Debra Clayton, a 17-year veteran of the Orlando Police Department, was killed in a gunfight in the Wal-Mart parking lot while attempting to arrest Markeith Loyd, a suspect in the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon. Loyd was later captured after a nine-day manhunt.
Orange County Sheriff's Deputy Norman Lewis, a motorcycle officer, was also killed that day during the pursuit for Loyd.
Earlier reports Friday night from official sources indicated that two officers had died.
Staff Writers Bianca Padro Ocasio, Christal Hayes, Krista Torralva and Gal Tziperman Lotan contributed to this report.
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