Killer not known to be supremacist

Those close to the man who shot a police sergeant say he was angry, but not racist.

By COLLEEN JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
Published September 23, 2007

TAMPA - If cop killer Michael A. Phillips was a white supremacist, he hid it from the people who knew him best.

With deputies closing in after he fatally shot Hillsborough sheriff's Sgt. Ronald Harrison on Aug. 15, Phillips yelled "Heil, Hitler" to a negotiator. After a sniper bullet killed Phillips, investigators found handwritten notes expressing racist sentiments in his Brandon home.

But law enforcement interviews with Phillips' friends, family and neighbors, made public on Thursday, do not pin down whether he belonged to a white supremacist group. Those close to Phillips, 24, depicted him as generally angry but didn't recall him spewing hatred toward any racial or ethnic group.

The question likely won't ever be answered.

Sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway said Friday that the office won't investigate Phillips' life or his shooting of Harrison any further.

Before Aug. 15, the only apparent connection between the two men - one a career criminal, the other a career law enforcement officer - was that they frequented the same convenience store. Callaway said the Sheriff's Office wouldn't be drawing any conclusions on whether the men had crossed paths before.

In the days after Harrison's death, investigators tried to determine whether the killing of the black 55-year-old lawman was racially motivated.

They had good reason to believe it was. In Phillips' house, they found a handwritten poem littered with curse words and racial epithets.

A jail deputy recalled having a conversation with Phillips about the Holocaust during the Brandon man's jail stint about eight months before. Phillips claimed the Holocaust had been fabricated, but the deputy said he had no evidence of Phillips belonging to a white supremacist group.

Neither did Phillips' buddies.

A 17-year-old neighbor who considered Phillips a friend laughed when investigators suggested such an affiliation. He said lots of people hung at Phillips' home, including blacks and Hispanics.

Some of those black and Hispanic friends attended his funeral, said Eric Jordan, who spent time with Phillips in the hours before he killed Harrison.

Jordan said he didn't know if Phillips was racist. He had heard him make racist comments if he was getting into a fight with a black or Mexican man. But Phillips never talked about some races getting better treatment than others, Jordan said.

"He even slept with black girls," Jordan said.

It's not uncommon for someone who to have a sexual relationship with a person of the race they claim to abhor, said Carol M. Swain, a Vanderbilt University law and political science professor who has written two books on white nationalism.

And someone can be a white supremacist without joining a formal group, she said.

"If a person is harboring those feelings inside," Swain said, "I think they're far more dangerous and likely to commit a crime."

Another Phillips friend, Robert Fusco, said he didn't think Harrison's killing had to do with him being black, but rather that he wore a badge.

According to the report, Phillips told his mother and a longtime girlfriend that he wanted to die in a police shootout after killing a cop. Worried about being sent to prison for as much as 30 years on pending felonies, Phillips told Jordan that authorities would have to take his life first.

"But," Jordan said, "everybody says stuff like that."

Times staff writer Rebecca Catalanello and researcher John Martin contributed to this report.