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Falls officer 'on the slow road to recovery' Police superintendent visits after shootout on domestic-violence call leaves 4 wounded

Niagara Falls Police Officer Walter R. Nichols Jr. had an apology for Police Superintendent John R. Chella when the chief arrived at the hospital after an early morning shootout Saturday that wounded Nichols, another officer, and a man and woman.

"Sorry to get you out of bed, sir," Chella said Nichols told him.

Nichols, an 18-year veteran of the police force who had just returned from military service in Afghanistan, remained in serious condition in the trauma unit of Erie County Medical Center on Sunday.

"He's in a lot of pain, but he's alert. He knows who everybody is, so he's on the slow road to recovery," Chella said. "He had some very intrusive surgery yesterday."

Police said Nichols and a second officer, Michael D. Bird, were wounded when Adam J. Hamilton, 34, fired a 12-gauge shotgun as they responded at about 1:15 a.m. Saturday to a domestic-violence call on South Avenue.

The woman, Stephanie C. Turk, 27, of Niagara Falls, had been stabbed in the stomach and shot by Hamilton, the father of her two sons, before officers arrived, police have said.

Hamilton, armed with the shotgun and a .22-caliber rifle, then turned the shotgun on the officers, according to police.

Turk, who suffered wounds to her head, leg and stomach, remained in critical condition Sunday in ECMC, Chella said.

Hamilton, who was shot by officers responding to the incident and suffered three gunshot wounds to his lower extremities, was listed in fair condition in ECMC on Sunday and was under 24-hour guard by the Niagara Falls Police Department.

Hamilton faces two counts of first-degree attempted murder and one count of second-degree attempted murder, according to authorities.

Detective Capt. Ernest C. Palmer said Hamilton had been waiting at Turk's home on South Avenue with the two guns, a knife and handcuffs.

Palmer said police believe that Turk's wounds all came from Hamilton's gunfire. "The full extent of her injuries, we don't know yet, but we have no reason to think that she was struck by a stray bullet," he said. "But we haven't had a full examination of her injuries yet."

The captain said Saturday that Turk and Hamilton were involved in a domestic incident last month in which Hamilton was charged with third-degree assault. She had an order of protection against him.

The incident Saturday was the third domestic shooting in Niagara Falls in four months. Police said that in November, Amy M. Holliday, 27, a mother and nursing student, was shot to death by her estranged husband, Charles R. Holliday, before he killed himself. Another woman, Julia A. Polley, 66, was fatally shot in the face last month. Police have accused her ex-husband, John A. Polley, of the shooting, which police have described as "reckless" but not related to a history of domestic violence. The ex-husband has pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree manslaughter.

Chella said he plans to meet with officials from state and county domestic-violence units this week to determine additional steps that the Police Department can take to reduce the incidence of domestic violence.

He said his department has a domestic-violence intervention team that has been conducting unannounced follow-up visits to the homes of victims to make sure there are no violations of orders of protection.

"We need to make sure that at least the paper that's being issued by the court is being adhered to," Chella said. "We've done that recently, and we have made numerous arrests for violation of that."

Chella, who was in ECMC on Sunday to visit Nichols and his family, said that there was not yet a timeline for the officer's release. Nichols underwent surgery Saturday to remove shotgun pellets, which had lodged near his heart, his stomach and his left hand and arm, Chella said.

Bird, who was hit with shotgun pellets in the face, was treated Saturday in Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and released.

Chella said his department would hold a voluntary Employee Assistance Program briefing this afternoon for officers.

"Everybody is right behind Walt and praying for him and supporting him," Chella said. "I got at least seven or eight e-mails last night between 9 and midnight from retired guys all over the country just saying, 'Give him our best.' "

Nichols was involved in a fatal shooting in 1997 when he was working off-duty as a hospital security guard at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.
A grand jury cleared Nichols after he shot a psychiatric patient who lunged at him with a butter knife. A wrongful-death lawsuit over the matter is scheduled to go to trial next year.

e-mail: djgee@buffnews.com

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