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York City officers cleared in shooting of fleeing fugitive

Liz Evans Scolforo

Two York City police officers were within the law to shoot at a fleeing fugitive and convicted felon who had driven straight at them and who was putting  pedestrians in danger, according to York County District Attorney Tom Kearney.

Kearney on Wednesday released his 28-page memorandum decision about the police shooting of James Michael Armentrout Jr., known as Mike.

James "Mike" Armentrout Jr.

Armentrout, 44, formerly of East Fifth Street in North York, was shot in the right calf as he fled from officers trying to ambush him in the parking lot of 3rd Base Food & Beer at 512 N. George St. about 8:30 p.m. June 18.

Two York City officers fired at him, according to Kearney's findings — Paul Thorne and Sean Haggarty.

In the memorandum, the district attorney noted that Armentrout had been wanted on domestic assault-related charges and  that officers were forewarned Armentrout had made statements indicating he wasn't going back to prison.

Earlier chase: The night before Armentrout was shot, York City officers tried to pull him over to arrest him on his warrant, but he evaded them during a high-speed chase, according to Kearney, who said Armentrout was driving on a suspended license. They filed additional charges against him, including fleeing police.

Officers were waiting in the car-wash bays outside 3rd Base to arrest Armentrout, who was there to meet his child's mother, Savanna Foller, according to the memorandum. Foller is one of the alleged victims in Armentrout's domestic-assault case, in which he is charged with simple assault and child endangerment. The couple's young child is the other alleged victim.

Foller was working with police to help them capture the fugitive, according to Kearney.

Officers tried to surround Armentrout's white GMC Yukon SUV, but he drove in reverse to get away, then "tried to dodge other vehicles in the parking lot in order to flee from the police officers," the memorandum states.

Ran into SUV: At one point, Armentrout had to quickly stop the SUV to avoid hitting another car. That caused Haggarty, who was chasing the SUV on foot, to run into the back of it, the memorandum states.

Police used cruisers to try to block Armentrout's escape routes, while Haggarty and a second officer chased the SUV on foot, yelling for Armentrout to stop, according to the memorandum.

Armentrout drove the SUV directly at officers, including Thorne, who was standing in the lot with his handgun drawn, the memorandum states. He also drove straight at police cruisers, according to the document.

"At the time this was occurring, there were numerous patrons in the parking lot, both on foot and in vehicles, but (Armentrout) kept driving through the parking lot in order to evade arrest," the memorandum states.

"He was aware that a minor league baseball game was occurring in their immediate vicinity with a significant amount of pedestrian traffic," Kearney wrote.

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Got away again: As the SUV headed toward Thorne, both Thorne and Haggarty fired at it, police have said. The SUV was struck a number of times, but Armentrout was hit by just one bullet, officials have said.

He managed to maneuver the SUV out of the parking lot, then fled south on North George Street at a high rate of speed, hitting another vehicle in the process, according to the memorandum.

Haggarty again fired at the SUV as it fled, the memorandum states.

Armentrout continued to flee in the SUV for several minutes but ran out of gas, the memorandum states. He then called his sister to pick him up and take him to Hanover Hospital, where he was arrested.

Armentrout's sister and brother had both previously tried to convince him to turn himself in on the domestic-assault warrant, according to Kearney.

'Imminent danger': Both Thorne and people in the area were "in imminent danger of immediate serious bodily injury or death" from Armentrout, the district attorney wrote.

Less imminent, "but still looming," Kearney wrote, was "the grave risk to members of the general public by one who had the day before eluded police while involved in a high-speed chase through a metropolitan area and was now doing so again, this time possibly in the midst of exiting fans of a baseball game and clearly on a well-traveled main city thoroughfare."

Kearney concluded Thorne was "clearly" in danger when he and Haggarty fired on Armentrout's SUV, and therefore both officers were well within their rights to shoot.

"The second set (of gunfire) by Officer Haggarty is more problematic," Kearney wrote, primarily because bullets could have struck bystanders.

"However, from his perception, at that moment in time, based on what was known to him, he perceived his conduct as achieving a greater good," the district attorney wrote. He also wrote that officers must make "split-second decisions" about using deadly force, which is "no easy task."

Taking all that into consideration, Kearney determined Haggarty did not act recklessly or break any laws when he fired the second set of shots at the fleeing Armentrout, according to the memorandum.

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Convicted at trial: Last week, a jury convicted Armentrout of fleeing police, reckless endangerment and driving with a suspended license for the 3rd Base Food & Beer incident but acquitted him of aggravated assault on a police officer, according to court records.

The same jury convicted him last week of fleeing police, reckless driving, driving with a suspended license and running a red light for the chase he spurred with York City Police the nigt before the 3rd Base incident.

Sentencing for both cases is set for June 23. His domestic-assault case has not yet gone to trial, according to court records.

Armentrout's attorney, public defender Ron Jackson Jr., declined comment until after sentencing.

York City Police Chief Wes Kahley said an internal York City Police investigation also determined Thorne and Haggarty were justified in using deadly force.

"We think our officers acted to defend themselves," he said, noting Kearney's findings back that up.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

James "Mike" Armentrout Jr.