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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
[Courtesy of Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
Phillips fatally shot Hillsborough sheriff's Sgt. Ronald Harrison, authorities said. He was killed by a SWAT team inside the Brandon home he shared with his mother.
TAMPA - Michael Allen Phillips, in and out of jail half his life, was free earlier this year as he awaited his latest felony trial.
Then, on Feb. 22, Hillsborough sheriff's deputies arrested him again. They said he attacked a man and a truck with a hard-toothed rake.
It was his 23rd arrest. Circuit Judge Manuel Lopez revoked Phillips' bail.
But on June 12, over prosecutors' objections and for reasons unclear Wednesday, Lopez reduced the bail to $30,000.
Eight days later, Phillips left jail.
Less than two months after that, the 24-year-old fatally shot Hillsborough sheriff's Sgt. Ronald Harrison, authorities said. He was killed by a SWAT team inside the Brandon home he shared with his mother.
Official records detail a dozen years' worth of violent crimes committed by Phillips, whose first arrest, on charges of armed burglary and grand larceny, occurred at age 12.
He progressed to battering girlfriends and defying authorities. But what drove Phillips to take a man's life, particularly one that appeared on Wednesday to have no link to his, confounded authorities and his family.
"Everybody's just devastated by all of this," said Phillips' stepmother, Keli Phillips of Ocala. "I don't understand how something like this happened."
Phillips was born in DeLand. Before he turned 2, his father filed for divorce from his mother. His parents each had multiple marriages, but their extended families got along, said his maternal grandmother, Patty Eads.
Troubled teen years
Phillips loved to skateboard, play soccer and fish. Eads described him as "one of the most loving little boys you'd ever want to know."
He adored his mother, now Regina Van Amburg. The eldest of her four children, he tattooed her name, "Gina," on his chest, according to Florida Department of Corrections records.
As a teen, Phillips was arrested four times in Volusia County on charges of burglary, grand larceny and battery. The dispositions of his juvenile cases aren't public.
By 2001, he had moved to Hillsborough County.
He was charged that April with threatening a man with a knife. That November, records show, he battered his girlfriend during a domestic dispute, threatened another man with a knife and jumped two fences to get away from deputies.
A judge sentenced him to prison and community control.
He was in prison when his girlfriend, Rosa Maria Bradley, gave birth to their son, Trace Michael Phillips, on Jan. 23, 2004.
The couple's relationship was tumultuous, records indicate.
Last year alone, she said he punched her in the face when she tried to leave him, threatened to kill her and her family and said he would hide their son.
"Mike was mentally unstable, but he was a good person, too," Bradley said.
He went to jail for 15 days on reckless driving and culpable negligence charges in May 2006 after Bradley said he grabbed her steering wheel and caused her to crash into two other cars.
Judges awarded her two temporary injunctions last year, but dismissed them when she didn't show for the final hearings.
Last year, a county judge ordered Phillips to attend an anger management class as part of a misdemeanor probation. He didn't go, a probation official said.
Targets of violence
Last month, Bradley called 911. She said Phillips had tried to choke her, punched her in the head and bit her ear.
"She stated that she is scared and in fear of her life and that when she leaves the ER she is going to the Spring because he is too dangerous and she doesn't feel safe," Deputy A. Pinner wrote in an incident report, referring to an abuse shelter.
Bradley, 21, was his most frequent target but not his only one.
On Oct. 17, 2006, deputies arrested Phillips on battery charges after he attacked two teenagers who were fighting with Bradley, records indicate.
The next day, authorities arrested him again. One of the teens from the previous day's attack said Phillips had kicked her in the face, hoping to scare her into dropping the charges.
It worked. She wouldn't cooperate with the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office, forcing prosecutors to drop charges of tampering with a witness and battery.
Phillips was set to go to trial before Lopez in September on his latest felony charges, which included fleeing from deputies in a high-speed chase. Prosecutors planned to seek enhanced penalties against him because he was a prison release re-offender.
Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi would not comment on the judge's decision to reduce Phillips' bail in June. Lopez could not be reached Wednesday evening.
The 'lost little boy'
Attorney John J. Rogers represented Phillips in the rake case. Phillips had been anxious to get his latest troubles behind him, so the attorney was shocked by the path his client took instead.
"He wanted to be there for his son," Rogers said. "I didn't see this coming at all with Michael."
Eads didn't want to speculate Wednesday about what went wrong in her grandson's life. She thought he was turning around, noting that he recently started going to church with his mother.
As she drove Wednesday to Tampa from Tennessee, Eads grieved and reminisced about her last visit with their "lost little boy."
They had fished from the Sunshine Skyway bridge. She laughed remembering how excited he got when he caught a Spanish mackerel.
"He was a pistol," she said. "A good-looking kid. A real good-looking kid."
Times staff writers Catherine E. Shoichet and Jonathan Milton contributed to this report.