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Police: Driver slammed Hanover-area cop's thumb in door

Liz Evans Scolforo
717-505-5429/@LizScolforoYD

An encounter with an argumentative driver Saturday night left a West Manheim Township police officer with an injured hand, but things could have ended much worse, according to his chief.

Robert Difatta

Patrolman Shawn Ricketts' thumb was lacerated and sore and was, for a time, stuck in the locked car door of Robert Lee Difatta, according to West Manheim Township Police Chief Tim Hippensteel.

"There was the potential for this to go south real quick," Hippensteel said, because if Difatta had taken off in his car, the 28-year-old officer would have been dragged.

Ricketts pulled over Difatta's gold Acura Integra at the corner of the Baltimore Pike and Fuhrman Mill Road about 11:30 p.m. Saturday because the car's registration plate wasn't properly illuminated, police said. The car's taillight/brakelight combination bulb wasn't working either, police said.

Difatta "immediately challenged the reason for the stop and stated that his tag lights were working but were out of place," according to charging documents.

"He was asking questions like, 'Don't you have anything better to do?'" Hippensteel said.

Difatta turned over his driver's license and insurance information when asked to by the officer, but did not provide his vehicle registration, documents state. He started shouting and arguing before telling Ricketts he didn't have his vehicle registration and that Ricketts had no right to shine a flashlight into his vehicle, police said.

'Furtive movements': Difatta opened his driver-side door to try to get out, but Ricketts shut it and directed Difatta to stay in his car and keep his hands on the steering wheel, police said, but Difatta shouted and "began making furtive movements toward his center console," documents state.

He then rolled up his driver door window "like the officer wasn't standing there" and tried to block Ricketts' view into the car, Hippensteel said.

Because the window was now closed, Ricketts opened the car door to continue speaking with Difatta, and to keep an eye on his "furtive movements," documents state.

But Difatta grabbed the door and slammed it shut, catching Ricketts' left thumb, according to Hippensteel. Difatta locked his car door, and the officer could not pull his thumb free, the chief said.

Ricketts repeatedly yelled at Difatta to open the door, and the driver eventually complied, police said.

By that time, a Penn Township police officer had arrived to provide backup, and he and Ricketts removed Difatta — who police said struggled and resisted arrest — from the car and handcuffed him, documents state.

Asked why he slammed his car door shut, Difatta said, "I didn't think my door needed to be opened," according to charging documents.

Difatta, 38, of 700 Leppo Road in Westminster, Maryland, was taken to the county's central booking unit and arraigned on charges of aggravated assault, resisting arrest, obstructing the administration of law, failing to carry vehicle registration and not having working rear lights. He remains free on $10,000 bail.

Still on duty: Ricketts was treated for his thumb injury and released from a local hospital. He remains on active duty, Hippensteel said.

Had Difatta simply been cooperative, "he'd have been out of there in 10 minutes with a warning card," the chief said, instead of charged with felony assault.

His car was towed from the scene and impounded, and Difatta went to the police station on Monday to retrieve it, according to Hippensteel, who said the man's demeanor hadn't improved much from Saturday night.

"Let's just go with 'challenging,'" the chief said when asked to describe Difatta's attitude at the station.

After the Acura had been brought to the police station, officers realized one of its tires was dangerously bald, meaning Difatta had to pay to have his car towed because police couldn't let him drive it with the tire in that condition, Hippensteel said.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.