Seeking justice: Trial of accused cop killer starts Monday

A blue streetlight installed by the Kissimmee Utility Authority in 2018 shines near the intersection of Cypress and Palmway streets in honor of two fallen Kissimmee Police Department officers.

Today marks two years to the day that Officer Matthew Baxter and Sgt. Richard “Sam” Howard were fatally shot while on patrol near downtown Kissimmee.

On Monday, their accused killer, Everett Miller, stands trial at the Osceola County Courthouse on two counts of first-degree murder.

Baker and Howard were talking to Miller near Palmway and Cypress streets at about 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 18, 2017. That’s when the man allegedly shot the officers in quick succession, then went to a nearby bar where he was later arrested.

Baxter, a three-year veteran and father of four, died that night. He was 27. Howard, a 10-year veteran, and father of one, died the following day. He was 36.  

The month before, Miller, a Marine Corp veteran, had been detained and held for psychiatric evaluation under Florida’s Baker Act. He reportedly had been walking down Old Dixie Highway in only his boxer short carrying a rifle. The Baker Act law is used by doctors, police and certain other professionals to involuntarily commit people who are considered to be a danger to themselves or

to others.

But it wasn’t long before Miller was back out on the street with a gun.

According to reports, Baxter was on a routine patrol alone when he approached three people at the corner of Palmway and Cypress streets and told dispatch that he was talking to them. Howard soon arrived on the scene to assist Baxter.

A witness filmed a short video that was released several months after the shooting. It shows Miller arguing with Baxter.

“Call a sergeant please, sir. Call everybody up here, we about to put this on Facebook live,” Miller told Baxter on the video.

Miller is then seen walking a few feet to a gray Kia Optima. He leans on the car and appears to be holding a card or license in his hand.

“I don’t need to show you my license, I’m not driving,” Miller says, stretching the card out in his hand.

“Come over here,” Baxter replies.

“I’m not coming to you, you’re coming to me,” Miller says, still leaning against his vehicle.

The person filming the video then turns off the camera and walks away, according to reports. Within minutes, neighbors called 911 to report the shootings.

Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell later said the shooting happened so fast that his officers were unable to defend themselves.  

KPD is hosting a Community Appreciation Day dedicated to Baxter and Howard today at police headquarters. It’s also intended to educate the public about police work and the men and women who serve on the force.

“The trial is coming up and we want to honor their legacy,” said police spokeswoman Bailey Myers.

The last Kissimmee police officer killed on the job was shot in 1983.

Miller, now 47, waived his right to a speedy trial in 2017, and is being held at the Orange County Jail. He was taken there after a March 2018 incident during which Osceola corrections staff used force to subdue him. Officers were in the process of separating Miller and another inmate in the sick bay after getting a tip that the two were planning to attack officers and medical staff. The officers were later cleared of wrongdoing by Osceola corrections officials.

In January, Ninth Circuit Court Judge Greg Tynan gave Miller’s defense team more time to prepare and rescheduled the trial, which had been set to take place in March.

Miller’s defense team told the judge at the time that they were still waiting on records from the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Office and an expert witness they claimed were crucial to the case.

State Attorney Matt Williams said in court that delaying trial was problematic for the state because some witnesses are transitory and can become more difficult to locate as time passes.

Miller faces the death penalty if convicted.