Deputy cleared in fatal shooting
James Nickol took out the trash and never looked back.
He knew walking away from his York County Prison work detail at a Springettsbury Township restaurant equated to escape — which carries a more lengthy prison sentence than the stint he was serving for burglary — and he'd already decided he could not live that long without his estranged girlfriend, whom he'd recently learned was seeing another man.
When his mother came to pick him up and take him to her house to hide out for the night, he told her he wasn't going back to prison.
Two days later, Nickol made good on those words.
The York County District Attorney's Office said no wrongdoing was found on the part of the York County sheriff's deputy who shot and killed Nickol June 9.
An investigation conducted by the York City Police Department found that Deputy Michael Lutz, 35, a five-year veteran of the sheriff's office, was in "fear of immediate serious bodily injury or death" when he returned fire at Nickol, 28, striking him multiple times.
Despite life-saving efforts, including CPR performed by officers at the scene, Nickol later died at York Hospital.
Nickol had fired first, striking Lutz twice before the deputy shot back, the DA's report said. York County District Attorney Tom Kearney has determined the fatal shooting was a justifiable homicide, according to a report released Wednesday morning.
Shots fired: What follows is an account of the events that began about 8:45 a.m. June 9 in the 900 block of East Philadelphia Street in York City, according to a DA's Office memorandum recapping the York City Police investigation.
Nickol traded shots that morning with police as several sheriff's deputies and York City Police officers attempted to arrest him on an outstanding warrant for escape. The officers tracked Nickol to 974 E. Philadelphia St., the home of his former girlfriend of seven years, Kristina Kennedy, and found him on the back porch.
As Lutz moved in with his gun drawn, he ordered Nickol twice, "Show me your hands." The two men came within arm's length of each other, and as Lutz grabbed Nickol to try to force him down and handcuff him, Nickol turned and fired.
Officer down: Lutz was struck in the cheek and thumb as he tried to grab Nickol's weapon. Lutz later told investigators he went into "life-saving mode" and gave the suspect "at least two — right from the hip."
Additional officers at the scene that day, who later spoke with investigators, reported hearing varying numbers of shots fired. One officer said four or five, another said six to 10. A third officer reported hearing between 15 and 20 shots.
Guns, bullets, pills: Evidence collected at the scene indicated Lutz fired seven shots from his Glock .40-caliber service pistol. Nickol's silver Smith and Wesson revolver — later found to have been reported stolen during an August 2015 burglary on South Howard Avenue in York City — contained five spent shell casings.
In a backpack found on the porch near where Nickol had been sitting, police found a Colt .38-caliber revolver, a Ziploc bag with 65 live .38 rounds, an empty holster and a pill bottle filled with 5½ oxycodone pills, three fentanyl patches and bullet fragments, as the bottle had been damaged, according to the report.
Among coins and other items, police also found a camera and SD cards, a box cutter and a knife, a watch, clothing and 17 unscratched lottery tickets in Nickol's bag. In his mother's vehicle parked nearby, officers found another 28 live .38-caliber rounds of ammunition, the report said.
Finally, a bag collected at the hospital that belonged to Nickol contained an unlabeled pill bottle filled with six carisoprodol pills, three fentanyl patches and 58½ oxycodone. In an envelope there was a letter dated May 24, 2016, from Kennedy to Nickol, that said, "I love you and miss ya," and signed, "your wife."
Nickol also had a return letter he'd written, dated June 7 — the date of his escape and two days prior to the shooting — that told Kennedy, "I would literally die if we were to part ways," and, "I know seriously I could not go on," according to the report.
Autopsy: An autopsy performed June 10 found that Nickol was shot seven times in the torso and that he suffered one grazing wound to the head. A toxicology report indicates Nickol had varying levels of codeine, morphine, oxycodone, oxymorphone, fentanyl, norfentanyl and ketamine in his system at the time of his death.
According to the memorandum, Nickol learned of Kennedy's involvement with another man while he was in jail and called her on it the night before his escape. Court records indicate Nickol was serving a year minus a day to two years minus a day for burglary. He walked away from the work detail the day after he called Kennedy and sent her a photo of himself with a revolver in his mouth.
The next morning she awoke to Nickol standing over her, the report said.
According to the report, Nickol had kicked in Kennedy's door. She told him he could not be there and drove him back to his mother's house. After another series of text messages, phone calls and a handwritten note left on her windshield, Kennedy became concerned enough to call the police.
The last message she had received from Nickol said he was outside her home. She was not there and met police about a block away to tell them what had been going on — and that Nickol might be armed.
City police and sheriff's deputies moved in, leading to the exchange of gunfire between Lutz and Nickol that left the officer wounded and the prison escapee deceased.
Over the course of the next few weeks, York City Police investigators interviewed all of the officers involved, as well as Kennedy, her new boyfriend and Nickol's mother, Tammy Nickol.
Given Nickol's pattern of criminal activity, drug use, possession of weapons and statements he made to his estranged girlfriend, the DA's office described his mental state as having "been affected" by his relationship with Kennedy, according to the report.
"One can only speculate" about the weapons and ammunition in Nickol's possession at the time of his death, the report said. The combination of his refusal to ever go back to prison, his tumultuous relationship with Kennedy and the drugs in his system "became the recipe" that led to his demise, the report concluded.
Hero: York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber said Lutz is almost fully recovered and is eager to get back to work.
"I talked to him today, he said he was about 90 percent," Keuerleber said. "We're just waiting on clearance from the doctors."
The sheriff called Lutz a hero and said his actions June 9 probably saved a lot of lives. The outpouring of support from the law-enforcement community and from citizens has been overwhelming, he said. Cards, letters and well-wishes have poured in since the shooting.
York City Police officials did not return calls for comment. The last phrase on the last page of the DA's report does state that the matter is now closed.
— Reach John Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JohnJoyceYD.