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Chief: Indiana police officer 'fighting for her life' after shooting during traffic stop

Officer Seara Burton was shot near 12th and C streets in Richmond on Aug. 10.

RICHMOND, Ind. — A Richmond police officer remains in critical condition following a shooting during a traffic stop Wednesday. 

On Aug. 11, Richmond Police Chief Michael Britt said Officer Seara Burton was in "extremely critical" condition after suffering a gunshot wound to her head. He said surgery has been performed and they have said they have seen bright spots in her recovery. 

State police said Burton was assisting other officers with a traffic stop in the area of 12th and C streets around 6:30 p.m. Aug. 10. The Richmond Police Narcotics Unit was conducting an operation when they saw 47-year-old Phillip M. Lee stop at a detached garage and believed a drug transaction happened.

Lee's moped was stopped by officers and Burton was called in to assist with her K-9 partner, Brev. During an "open-air sniff" of the moped, police said the dog indicated the possible presence of narcotics. The stop was being recorded on video by a narcotics officer north of the stop.

According to court documents, while officers were speaking with Lee, he allegedly pulled out a concealed firearm and shot several rounds toward officers. Court documents claim video of the incident shows Lee aiming at the officers' "head and facial areas." Burton was struck by the gunfire. An officer next to her was nearly shot in the head. Other officers on the scene returned fire, and Lee shot at them as he ran away.

“He just pulled the gun and fired. He was just so close to her. She didn’t stand a chance. It’s just not fair to her. It’s not fair to her family," said Michelle Partin, who is Lee's neighbor and witnessed the shooting. “He fired one shot and pop and there was a slight pause and then pop, pop, pop where [officers] returned fire and there was anywhere from 10 to 15 shots.”  

Another witness told 13News she heard "dozens" of gunshots in the area and saw a female officer and another man who had apparently been shot. Both were taken away in ambulances, the woman said.

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"Like in the snap of your fingers, it went bad that fast. The officers were going to come towards him on the scooter to let the dog go do its job, and he didn’t like it. He didn’t want that for some reason," Partin said. "Whatever she was going to find, he didn’t want her to find because that’s when he went blank, no kind of emotion for that second, and he just pulled the gun and fired and he was so close to her, she didn’t stand a chance.”

Burton was taken to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, in "very critical condition, fighting for her life." 

"Those of you who pray, I ask that you pray for her, because she could use it," Britt said Wednesday night.

After a brief foot chase, Lee was shot and apprehended on the porch of the home where he lived. Police said the gun he used was a 9mm with a 10-round magazine.

Lee was treated for gunshot wounds by the officers at the scene and later transported by ambulance to Reid Hospital in Richmond. Lee is being held on a $1.5 million bond. He is charged with three counts of attempted murder (third count added Aug. 19), unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, possession of methamphetamine, possession of cocaine and another drug charge. 

RELATED: Suspect in Richmond police shooting claimed years earlier he 'was not going back to jail and would shoot any officer or agent that encountered him'

Britt said his "entire department" responded to provide support for Burton and their fellow officers after the shooting happened.

"The police department is obviously devastated. She's a fine officer, and we have a family environment here," Britt said, describing some of his officers as "emotionally injured" by the incident.

The impact on the police department and the Richmond community was immediate.

"This is a heavy evening in our community. Ofc. Burton has been a tremendous officer. She has supported this community, she has worked hard for this community and tonight, we need to return that to her," Richmond Mayor Dave Snow said at a news conference Wednesday. "Tonight, she needs our prayers, our department needs our prayers, and I'm thankful that our officers were able to apprehend the assailant that committed this violence that just won't be tolerated in the city of Richmond."

State police took over the investigation into the shooting Wednesday night. They said that night there was only one suspect in the incident and there was no threat to the community.

First court appearance set

The man accused in the shooting made his first court appearance in the case Friday afternoon.   

On Wednesday, the judge appointed an attorney to represent him. Lee is charged with two counts of attempted murder, unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon and several other drug charges.

Lee made his initial appearance on a video conference from his hospital bed in Dayton, Ohio. A judge asked Lee questions about his educational background and if he planned to hire his own attorney. 

Several of Burton's fellow officers were at the courthouse to watch the proceedings, which lasted about 10 minutes.

Court records show Lee has an extensive rap sheet over the past 28 years, including violent crimes. For that reason, the judge set his bail at $1.5 million.

His jury trial is set to begin on Nov. 1. If Lee gets out of the hospital before that date, he's likely to be sent to a Department of Correction facility to await trial. 

Friday was supposed to be Burton's wedding day. In a recent Facebook post, her fiancée said Burton is the strongest person she knows and that she continues to prove that every single day.

Community offers support

On Thursday, Snow thanked the community for their show of support for Burton and the police department and reiterated a call for prayers for the officer.

"Officer Burton is a brave young officer who put her life on the line daily so all of us could live in a safer community. Right now, she is in a difficult fight, and we are all fighting with her," the mayor wrote. "If you are privileged to know Officer Burton, you know she is a strong, resilient woman, and it’s her strength and your prayers that will give her the best chance to win this fight."

Britt also acknowledged the support of the community his department has received since the shooting.

"Let me also mention the selfless outpouring of support, not only by our Law Enforcement brothers and sisters, but the outpouring of support from many members of our community, including local businesses," Britt said in a social media post. "It has been truly heart-warming to witness the things I’ve seen and heard of today. This truly defines our communities’ interest in the well-being of their first responders and fellow citizens. For this, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart."

A prayer vigil for Burton was held Friday evening at the City Building in Richmond.

'A fantastic officer'

Britt called Burton "a fantastic officer" who had recently been elevated to work as a K-9 handler with the department. A Facebook post from the Richmond Police Department K-9 Unit congratulated Burton and K-9 Brev on their graduation in April. 

We are proud to welcome Officer Seara Burton and K-9 Brev as the most recent graduates of the Vohne Liche Kennels handler course. Our new K-9 team will begin their work in the community next week.

Posted by Richmond Police Department K-9 Unit on Thursday, April 14, 2022

The chief also said Burton, a four-year veteran of the department, is engaged and is scheduled to be married in the coming weeks. She was sworn in as an officer four years ago this week.

Britt said it's the second time this year a Richmond officer has been injured while on duty. In February, an officer was thrown from a stolen semi. That officer returned to work only recently and was at the scene of Wednesday's shooting.

Suspect's criminal history

According to the Indiana Department of Correction, Lee has been in prison five separate times: 

  • Feb. 28, 1994 - April 10, 1997
  • June 6, 1998 - June 28, 2000
  • Sept. 25, 2002 - Nov. 29, 2012
  • June 26, 2014 - March 25, 2017
  • May 23, 2018 - Dec. 31, 2021

Lee has been convicted on multiple charges, including possession of cocaine and multiple burglaries.

Credit: Indiana Department of Correction
Phillip M. Lee, 47, of Richmond.

13 Investigates has learned Lee spent nearly 22 out of the last 28 years in state prison.

RELATED: Suspect in Richmond police shooting claimed years earlier he 'was not going back to jail and would shoot any officer or agent that encountered him'

In his 2018 sentence, he had 108 days credit and was released on parole on Dec. 31, 2021. Lee was set to finish his parole requirements on Dec. 31, 2023.

Responses from local law enforcement

Within 30 minutes of ISP announcing the shooting, thoughts and prayers started to roll in on social media. 

Among the messages was a statement from IMPD North District officers that said, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Richmond Police Department and the officer who was shot on duty a short time ago. The status of the officer and details are unknown at this time."

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Richmond Police Department and the officer who was shot on duty a short time ago. The status of the officer and details are unknown at this time.

Posted by North District IMPD on Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Southport Police Department, which recently marked five years since Lt. Aaron Allan was fatally shot in the line of duty, also offered prayers to Burton.

Our thoughts go out to K9 Officer Seara Burton of the Richmond Police Department after she was shot during a traffic stop earlier this evening. We pray for your recovery.

Posted by Stinesville Police Department on Wednesday, August 10, 2022

This shooting comes less than two weeks after an Elwood police officer was shot and killed.

Officer Noah Shahnavaz was killed while conducting a traffic stop on July 31.

RELATED: 'He will be missed more than words can express': Fallen Elwood Officer Noah Shahnavaz laid to rest

According to Indiana State Police, Shahnavaz tried to stop a vehicle at State Road 37 and County Road 1100 North in Madison County around 2 a.m.

Investigators say Carl Roy Webb Boards II got out of his vehicle and fired multiple rounds at Shahnavaz, striking him several times. 

Boards has been charged with murder and is also facing charges of resisting law enforcement and unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon.

(Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the suspect was taken to Reid Hospital in Richmond, not a hospital in Dayton, Ohio as earlier reported.)

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