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2 officers, 2 others wounded in shootout Domestic dispute in Falls turns violent

Two Niagara Falls police officers -- and a man and woman involved in a violent domestic dispute -- were wounded in a shootout early Saturday in the 1000 block of South Avenue, said Niagara Falls Police Chief John Chella.

Neighbors ducked for cover as the gunman blasted his shotgun and officers fired back, using their patrol cars as shields.

"It was probably one of the more chaotic scenes the chief and I have seen in our careers," Detective Capt. Ernest Palmer said.

About 1:15 a.m., neighbors on South Avenue, on the north side of the city, reported commotion in the street, police said.

Rick Dumas, who lives across the street from the shooting, said he looked out his window and saw a man trying to push a woman into the back seat of his car. They were identified later as Adam J. Hamilton, 34, and Stephanie C. Turk, 27.

"Get into the car! Get into the car!" Hamilton screamed at Turk, according to Dumas.

Dumas said he heard her crying, "No!"

Though Hamilton forced Turk into the car, she managed to get away. Dumas, meanwhile, called police, and while talking to a police dispatcher, heard a gunshot and a woman scream.

"There are shots being fired here!" Dumas said he told the dispatcher.

Then he heard another gunshot. Turk ended up across the street, on the porch of a house at 1020 South, and Hamilton -- armed with a shotgun -- followed, according to police.

Among the first to arrive at the scene was Officer Walter Nichols, an 18-year veteran of the Niagara Falls Police Department, who had been involved in a fatal shooting 12 years ago and just returned from serving in Afghanistan.

The traffic officer in front of 1020 South believed the gunman was one house away. Dumas said he had told the dispatcher the incident was at 1023, which is where the argument began. Another caller apparently told the dispatcher the fight was at 1028, Dumas said the operator told him.

As soon as Nichols got out of his vehicle, Hamilton allegedly opened fire.

"The [gunman] on the porch points his shotgun at [Nichols] and hits him in the left area," Chella said.

Nichols crawled to safety.

A second officer, Michael Bird, an eight-year veteran of the force who is a K-9 officer, was hit with pellets in his face.

Nichols, Bird and other police officers who responded returned fire, striking the gunman, who suffered three gunshot wounds to his lower extremities, Chella said.

The woman also suffered gunshot wounds to her leg and stomach. Police believe Hamilton stabbed Turk in the abdomen and shot her in the head, but were unsure if she had been shot during the exchange of gunfire.

Dumas said he stayed on the phone with 911 as the barrage of shooting began.

Hamilton "was shooting at the police," he said, "and five of [the police] were shooting back."

Dumas said he soon ducked down below his window, afraid of being struck by a stray bullet. He said he looked up at one point and saw Hamilton hanging off the edge of the porch.

"They killed him! They killed him!" he said he screamed to the 911 operator.

But, in fact, Hamilton had survived.

Nichols, Hamilton and Turk were all in Erie County Medical Center late Saturday. Bird was treated in Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and was released several hours later.

Nichols was in stable condition Saturday, after doctors performed surgery to remove pellets around his heart, Chella said, while Hamilton's injuries do not appear life-threatening.

Turk went through two rounds of surgery, according to her mother, Brenda Stovall. Police said she was listed in critical condition.

By midday Saturday, reminders of the violence that had broken out overnight were scattered all over the porch and sidewalk at 1020 South Ave.

The porch was riddled with bullet holes. The glass window of the front door was shattered over the ground. There were splatters of blood, along with rubber gloves and scissors from paramedics strewn about the dirty, melting snow.

But across the street, where Turk had been staying with her sister, there was evidence of happier times: a dozen popped balloons lay on the ground, the remnants a birthday party for Turk's 1-year-old son, Josiah.

Stovall, who lives in an apartment unit next to Turk's sister, said Turk had been staying with the sister in recent days because she was having problems with Hamilton.

Hamilton is the father of Turk's two sons, Josiah and a 9-year-old boy, Stovall said. Although her daughter and Hamilton were having relationship problems, she said she never knew Hamilton to be violent.

However, the two were involved in a domestic incident last month, when Hamilton was charged for third-degree assault Jan. 20, Palmer said. She had an order of protection against him, and a pending court date.

Records show Hamilton has been arrested a handful of times since he was a teenager. In 1995, he was exonerated of charges related to a Niagara Falls cocaine ring.

Hamilton showed up Saturday on South Avenue and waited for Turk with two guns, a knife and handcuffs, Palmer said.

Stovall was asleep when the shooting started. By the time she got up, her daughter was in a stretcher and was being taken away in an ambulance, she said.

Both Nichols and Bird are decorated police officers who are married with children. Nichols recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan -- his second tour abroad. He was back on the job at the Niagara Falls Police Department just two weeks when the shooting occurred.

Nichols had been cleared by a grand jury in 1997, after fatally shooting a psychiatric patient who lunged at him with a butter knife while working has an off-duty security guard at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.

Bird suffered minor injuries just a week ago when his K-9 unit vehicle was struck by an alleged drunken driver.

Niagara Correspondent Mike Kurilovitch contributed to this report.

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com and jrey@buffnews.com

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