3 charged in hiding shooter of NYS Trooper, police say

Suspected Trooper-shooter Ralph Phillips had been harbored for a few days by three individuals in the town of Charlotte, State Police said. Those individuals have now been arrested and are facing felony charges of hindering prosecution.

Law enforcement officials continue to search for Phillips, an escaped convict who is also suspected of shooting New York State Trooper Sean M. Brown on June 10 during a traffic stop in the town of Veteran. Brown was shot in the side and just recently returned to full patrol duties.

There is a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Phillips. If you have any information on his whereabouts, please contact your local State Police station.

The article below from The Buffalo News explains more in-depth about the recent arrests in the case.

News Staff Reporter

FREDONIA – This time, state troopers thought they finally had fugitive Ralph "Bucky" Phillips cornered.

After a trooper followed the operator of a motorcycle with no inspection sticker – who turned out to be Phillips – back to the modest second-floor apartment where he had hung out for three or four days, the trooper radioed for backup help.

For 30 minutes Saturday evening, neighbors and police say, between five and eight State Police cars surrounded the house in the Town of Charlotte. Police guarded the only entrance, an outdoor stairway at the rear corner of the house.

Neighbors were told to stay inside and away from their windows and doors.

The three occupants of the animal-filled apartment at first told troopers that no one was in the house, that they did not know who the man was.

"There was a good chance he was in there and armed," State Police Maj. Michael T. Manning said of the large police presence. "We didn’t even know if he was in there with hostages. There was a lag time because of the lack of cooperation [from the residents]."

But as it turned out, Phillips already had fled, apparently by jumping from a rear second-floor window onto a shed, then running into the thick woods behind the house on Route 60, three miles south of Cassadaga.

So why did the three occupants of the apartment, above a large concrete garage, harbor a fugitive who has been accused of shooting and wounding a state trooper, especially when they might have collected a $50,000 reward?

"I’m a pacifist," one of the three suspects told troopers at the scene Saturday night. "[Phillips] never bothered me."

State troopers said only that one of the two women in the house had a "distant connection" with someone in Phillips’ family.

Monday, as state troopers used the three arrests on felony charges as a warning to others who might consider harboring Phillips, officials said they were glad no one was hurt in their close brush with Phillips.

"We’re lucky he went out the window," Manning said. "If he had come out the door, I don’t know what could have happened, especially knowing he was armed."

Manning was asked what a trooper would be advised to do in confronting an armed Phillips.

"By law, he would be authorized to shoot [Phillips] on sight," Manning replied. "He already has shot a person, the trooper [Sean Brown]. But that’s an individual decision, and we’re not proponents of shooting him on sight. But we do have an obligation to protect the community and protect other police officers on the next police stop."

Manning also defended the actions of the trooper who followed Phillips back to the home.

"He did everything he possibly could, except put his life in danger," Manning said. "What was he going to do, walk up the stairs by himself?"

Berenice Knapp and her boyfriend, Tom Boye, never knew Phillips had been next door from Wednesday to Saturday night, although Boye’s father had noticed the motorcycle Phillips was using.

"My heart jumped out of my stomach to realize that for three days he was staying over there and anything could have happened," Knapp said. "I’m just glad he didn’t come over here."

While the State Police has emphasized repeatedly that Phillips remains armed and dangerous, many community residents of this northern Chautauqua County area have said they do not fear for their own safety.

"I don’t think he would hurt any civilians," Knapp said. "He’s just trying to get away."

She and her boyfriend described their next-door neighbors as living in a filthy apartment. The apartment housed three snakes and assorted dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, chickens and roosters, the neighbors said.

"It made me sick to my stomach every time I went there," Knapp said.

Both Knapp and her boyfriend seemed disbelieving that the three people next door were harboring Phillips and that no one reported his presence there.

"I would have given him up for the $50,000," Boye said. "I would have given him up for $10,000."

The three residents, identified as Timothy Seekings, 49; Alice Kelley, 44; and Natasha Berg, 24, all face felony charges of hindering prosecution. They are being held without bail in Chautauqua County Jail.

Other charges could be added, including federal charges, Manning said. Hindering prosecution is a Class D felony, punishable by a possible 21/3 to seven years in prison.

The flags outside the Fredonia State Police barracks were at half-staff Monday, in memory of Trooper John J. McKenna IV, 30, from the Albany area, who was killed last week in Iraq.

After learning of McKenna’s death, Manning bristled at questions about Phillips attaining some kind of "hero" status among some Chautauqua County residents.

"The people in this community who think this guy is a hero are way out of line," Manning said.

Referring to McKenna, he added, "That’s a hero."

Link to the article in The Buffalo News