DA: State police who shot elderly gunman were justified

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

State troopers who shot and killed a 79-year-old Stewartstown-area man on his front porch in April were justified in using deadly force, York County District Attorney Tom Kearney has determined.

Robert Bennett Becker, of 254 Hollow Road in Hopewell Township, repeatedly fired a loaded 9 mm handgun at troopers, who returned fire, according to a memorandum dated and made public Tuesday by Kearney's office.

Robert Becker, 79, was pronounced dead the morning of Monday, April 24, 2017, after exchanging gunfire with state police outside his home on Hollow Road in Hopewell Twp. Troopers responded to Becker’s home about 4 a.m. that day after Becker called 911 and said he had killed Satan. York County DA Tom Kearney on Aug. 1, 2017, ruled troopers were justified in fatally shooting Becker, after the man fired at one of them.
(Jason Addy photo)

"Mr. Becker's actions were twice designed to draw the response of deadly force by the Troopers," Kearney wrote.

Becker specifically told troopers that "this is going to end with suicide by cop," according to the memorandum. When his home was searched later, police found a loaded pistol about 3 feet from the front door and "multiple" firearms throughout Becker's home and property.

He died of multiple gunshot wounds, officials said. No troopers were hurt in the 4:06 a.m. shootout.

Kearney's memorandum states that 10 .45-caliber bullets and four .223-caliber bullet fragments were collected from Becker's body at autopsy. The .223 ammunition was from an AR-15 rifle.

Mental-health issues: In the hours after the fatal shooting, Trooper Brent Miller, a state police spokesman, said troopers had been to the Becker home on two previous occasions for "mental health-related incidents."

A search of Becker's home by a state police Major Case Team based in Carlisle determined that Becker had used painter's tape to create "what appeared to be some type of hieroglyphics" throughout his home.

They also found a journal Becker used to document his investigations into various people and to write about "people spying for the FBI," according to the memorandum.

Also in that journal, Becker "congratulates himself as being a good investigator," the memorandum states.

Investigators found more guns, ammunition and holsters hidden in Becker's garage and shed, according to Kearney, who noted that books on the occult and a letter "banishing" him from a local church were found in Becker's home.

Neighbors later reported that Becker told them he had been abducted by aliens.

Video of shooting: A dashboard camera in a state police cruiser recorded the shooting, and it shows the four responding troopers — Thomas Wright Jr., Jared Troutman, Richard Sentak Jr. and David Petrosky — taking positions of cover around Becker's home, according to the memorandum.

They arrived at 3:56 a.m., Kearney said.

A short time later, apparently responding to police commands, Becker came out on his porch, waved his handgun and pointed it in the direction of troopers, Kearney wrote.

Becker ignored repeated commands by troopers for him to drop his weapon, according to the memorandum.

During the standoff, Trooper Wright "continued to engage him with dialogue to de-escalate the situation," and during that time Becker pointed his gun at Wright three times, Kearney wrote.

'Suicide by cop': That's when Becker started making statements that "this is going to end with suicide by cop" and that the confrontation was "going to end one way or another," according to the memorandum.

Becker continued to ignore troopers' commands to drop his gun, and Wright continued to try to talk Becker into peacefully ending the confrontation, Kearney said.

At 4:06 a.m., Becker fired in the direction of Wright and Troutman, at which point troopers immediately returned fire, shooting Becker multiple times, the memorandum states.

Troopers started to approach Becker's porch, but Becker, who was now lying on his porch, reached back, found his gun and fired one more round at the troopers, according to Kearney. They again returned fire, killing him.

The memorandum states three of the four troopers — Wright, Petrosky and Troutman — returned fire. Troutman was armed with an AR-15 rifle, according to Kearney.

The background: Becker called 911 about 3:30 that morning, saying, "I want to report a homicide" at his home. When asked how he knew there was a homicide, he said he knew because "I killed the son of a b— that's why," the memorandum states.

Becker went on to say that a couple days before, his sister had called police to say he was suicidal. But he told the dispatcher that "the tables have turned, I was homicidal."

Becker claimed he killed Satan, said he could see people's auras and asked a dispatcher whether she believes in reincarnation, according to the memorandum.

He said he believed a bullet went through his wall and struck his sleeping neighbor in the head, according to Kearney. The neighbor was unhurt.

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NYC bomb threat: Kearney noted that eight days before the fatal encounter, Becker had contacted 911 in Manhattan and stated that he was psychic. He warned them a nuclear bomb would go off in the financial district, causing 911 to send a bomb squad to the area.

Troopers went to Becker's home that day to check on him and reported that he seemed delusional about having ESP abilities, Kearney wrote.

Four days before the fatal encounter, state police were sent to Becker's home to do a welfare check, which his sister requested after Becker sent her a text stating he was going to commit suicide, according to Kearney.

Troopers were unable to have him involuntarily committed on April 20 because they didn't have sufficient evidence to do so, Kearney wrote. To involuntarily commit someone in Pennsylvania, there must be proof that a person is a danger to himself or others.

'Disturbed': "Mr. Becker was clearly a disturbed individual, with bizarre and troubled thoughts," Kearney wrote.

The DA noted that hieroglyphic-type writings on the walls of Becker's home made it appear he "was engaged in warding off demons."

Kearney wrote that it's "beyond question" the troopers were in fear of death or serious injury when they returned fire and fatally shot Becker.

"Sadly," Kearney wrote, it appears Becker's intention was to commit suicide by cop. "For whatever reason, Mr. Becker truly 'couldn't take it anymore.'"

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