At 10:23 p.m. on Friday, Deputy Chris Hart of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office responded to the intersection of Old Dixie Highway and East Donegan Road in Kissimmee, Florida.
A short time earlier, two members of the Kissimmee Police Department had been shot. Police Officer Matthew Baxter, 27, and Sgt. Robert “Sam” Howard, 36, had been rushed to Osceola Regional Hospital. Baxter was pronounced dead. Howard would prove to be beyond saving.
“Dispatch advised the suspect was a black male, wearing a white tank top shirt, black shorts, and red and black shoes,” Hart would later write in an affidavit.
A fellow deputy informed Hart that the manager of the nearby Roscoe’s Bar and package store on North Orange Blossom Trail had just contacted him.
“There was currently a black male wearing a white tank top inside the bar, acting suspicious and refusing to leave,” Hart’s affidavit would report. “Due to the description matching the suspect, multiple deputies and I responded to the establishment.”
At 10:50 p.m., Hart pulled up in front of Roscoe’s, the oldest bar in Kissimmee, possessor of the third oldest liquor license in the state.
Two fellow deputies took position by the rear exit. Hart entered the front and saw two other deputies, Robert Hansel and T. Fox, were already inside, speaking to a man seated at the bar. The man was wearing a white tank top, along with black shorts and black and red shoes.
“Later identified as Everett Miller,” the affidavit notes.
The affidavit goes on, “As I approached the deputies, both were ordering Everett to get up and step outside. However, Everett continued to refuse the commands and began shouting profanities and yelling, ‘I didn’t do anything.’”
Handel and Fox grabbed Miller’s left arm and attempted to pull him off the stool.
“Everett forcefully attempted to pull his arm away and turn his body away from us,” the affidavit continues. “As Everett was being withdrawn from his chair, I observed his right arm reaching behind his back toward his waistband.”
Hart had just been at a crime scene where two cops had been shot before they had a chance to draw their weapons by someone who matched this man’s description in every particular.
But rather than reach for his gun, Hart moved to keep Miller from getting whatever might be in his waistband.
“I immediately hooked my arm around his right arm, pinning Everett up against the wall,” the affidavit reports. “I observed an object bulging out of Everett’s rear waistband.”
The affidavit says Miller continued to struggle and fought to free his arms.
“I observed a black 9mm Sig Sauer fall from the rear of his waistband,” the affidavit says.
For every questionable police shooting in this country, there are thousands of situations where a cop could have used deadly force but chose not to even though it meant risking that he himself might be shot.
The Sig Sauer clattered onto the floor in testament to what might have happened. One of the other deputies secured the gun as Miller fought on.
“Regardless of our numerous commands to stop resisting, Everett was relentless and constantly resisted our efforts, shouting, ‘I’m innocent. I didn’t do it. I’m a veteran,’” the affidavit says.
One of the other deputies kneed Miller’s left outer thigh several times in an effort simply to subdue, not to punish.
“Compliance was gained and Everett was placed into custody,” the affidavit says.
The affidavit further reports that deputies searched Miller and found a small .22 caliber Derringer revolver in his front left pants pocket.
“The Derringer .22 caliber revolver and the 9mm Sig Sauer were collected and turned over to the evidence department,” the affidavit says.
Miller was taken in to Kissimmee Police headquarters and placed in an interview room. He is said to have invoked his Miranda rights to remain silent and consult with a lawyer.
In the arrest report, Det. Charles Hess reports that Miller had then complained that his handcuffs were too tight. Hess writes that he loosened them and Miller broke down.
“Everett began to cry, said he did not want to live and pleaded with me to kill him,” the arrest report says.
The moment came when a detective quietly assured a man believed to have killed two cops who worked in this very stationhouse that nobody there was going to kill him. Hess asked Miller why he was so bent on dying.
“I have done a bad thing,” Miller allegedly said.
When the detectives ran a check on Miller, they discovered that he was indeed a veteran, having served 21 of his 45 years on active duty in the Marine Corps. He had no criminal record.
At some point, apparently after he left the Marines, he had suffered a mental crisis. The Osceola Sheriff’s Office had at one point “Bakered” him, as it is said when law enforcement uses the state’s Baker Law to commit someone to a psychiatric facility if he is deemed to be a danger to himself or to others. He was then determined to be neither and released.
On Facebook, Miller had changed his name to Malik Mohammad Ali, though he said on the page that he was not religious. He had in recent days been posting about the neo-Nazis and Klansmen at the Charlottesville “United the Right” rally. One posting spoke of how the KKK had supposedly infiltrated law enforcement.
On Friday morning, a dozen hours before the two cops were gunned down, Miller had posted a photo of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the words, “When I said march, I didn’t mean forever… Shoot back.”
Miller added, “You can only poke a tie[d] up dog so long. Once that chain breaks it’s over. Wake up America before it’s too late.”
As night neared, Miller was back on Facebook, posting an image of cops in Klan hoods.
“F--- you, rich bastards,” Miller wrote in the posting.
To which any reasonable reader would have responded, “Hunh?”
Hate now seemed to have infected a former Marine with mental troubles in Kissimmee.
Miller can be seen leaning against a car and arguing with Baxter in a brief cellphone video taken by an onlooker on Friday evening in the way that confrontations with the police are so often memorialized these days. Miller can be heard telling Baxter that the police had no right to stop him, as he was not driving. Baxter radioed for a supervisor.
“At 2148 hours, Sergeant Sam Howard arrived and there were no more radio transmissions from Sergeant Howard or Officer Matthew Baxter,” the subsequent arrest report says.
Baxter and Howard instructed the onlookers to move on. Among them was the man who had been making the video.
“He stopped recording and they walked away,” the report says. “They heard gunshots and took off running.”
The report goes on, “At approximately 2152 hours, dispatch began receiving calls from residents in the area about shots fired. Moments later, the callers advised there were two officers lying in the street.”
The report continues, “Several officers responded and found Sergeant Sam Howard and Officer Matthew Baxter unresponsive in the street. The responding officers began resuscitation effort.”
The two shot cops had fallen with their guns still in the holsters.
“It looked like they were surprised,” Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell later said.
The onlooker with the cellphone flagged down a radio car and showed a deputy the video, saying the man who had been arguing with Baxter was the same one who had shot him and Howard. The deputy called in a description of the man in the video and the dispatcher put it over the air.
Hart and a half-dozen deputies soon were in Roscoe’s, and it could have ended then and there had they not shown restraint that members of law enforcement demonstrate thousands of times a day despite the risk, even though it is routinely taken for granted, even though it is forgotten altogether when there is a questionable shooting.
At the press conference following the killing of the two officers and the arrest of the suspect, Chief O’Dell sought to convey the particular kind of courage that Hart and the others in Roscoe’s had demonstrated.
“They were extremely brave and heroic actions taken by the deputies,” O’Dell said.
And that was exactly in keeping with Baxter and Howard.
“They are two wonderful men, family men,” O’Dell said of the murdered cops. "They are two committed to doing it the right way."
The state attorney for Osceola and Orange counties, Aramis Ayalal, announced back in March that she would not pursue the death penalty under any circumstances. Florida Gov. Rick Scott now stepped in and transferred this case to the prosecutor in Ocala.
In the meantime, Miller was arraigned before a judge on murder charges and ordered held without bail at the Osceola County Jail. He arrived in handcuffs that had belonged to Baxter.
A joint funeral for Baxter and Howard will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at the First Baptist Church in Orlando. Howard leaves a 17-year-old daughter. Baxter leaves four daughters, the youngest just 7 months old. His widow is a detective, who is also committed to doing it the right way.