DA: York City cop justified in shooting fleeing thief
A York City police officer was justified in shooting a drifter who was ramming the officer's cruiser with a stolen SUV during a chase through the city's west end, according to York County District Attorney Tom Kearney.
Kearney released a memorandum on Friday, Oct. 20, stating Officer John Huncher's actions were "clearly justified under Pennsylvania law."
"It is beyond question that the officer's concerns were reasonable," the DA wrote.
Huncher fired five times at Terry Eugene Diffenderfer as the fleeing vehicle-theft suspect rammed into the officer's cruiser.
Kearney's report doesn't state how many times Diffenderfer was shot or where on his body he was wounded.
Huncher was standing next to the cruiser with his gun drawn as he ordered Diffenderfer to stop, but Diffenderfer instead put the SUV in reverse and hit the gas, crashing into the cruiser and pushing it into Huncher, according to Kearney.
The officer suffered a concussion, York City Police Chief Wes Kahley has said.
"Clearly, at the moment he fired, Officer Huncher was in danger of death or serious bodily injury," Kearney wrote. "Mr. Diffenderfer acknowledged so by pleading guilty to aggravated assault for ... intentionally ramming (Huncher's) vehicle."
Diffenderfer, 30, pleaded guilty Oct. 5 in York County Court to two counts of aggravated assault and one count each of fleeing or attempting to elude police, theft, criminal mischief and retail theft. The last charge was for shoplifting a Mountain Dew and two chocolate bars from Royal Farms, according to Kearney.
As part of a negotiated plea agreement, he was sentenced to a total of 7½ to 15 years in state prison.
'They gotta get me': Diffenderfer's passenger in the vehicle, Ashley Brown, later told officers that when they realized York City Police were chasing them, Diffenderfer indicated he had no intention of stopping, according to Kearney.
"If they want me, they gotta get me," he allegedly said, according to DA's memorandum.
Brown was Diffenderfer's on-and-off girlfriend of about 11 years, and the couple have three children together, according to Kearney.
She also said that at the time Diffenderfer stole the SUV from the Royal Farms parking lot at Route 30 and Roosevelt Avenue about 4:30 a.m. April 29, they had been kicked out of the home of a family member where they'd been staying.
Also, Brown told authorities she and Diffenderfer used heroin together prior to him stealing the SUV, according to court documents.
Shotgun in SUV: A turkey hunter left his white Mercury Mountaineer idling in the Royal Farms parking lot, with a Mossberg 930 semi-automatic shotgun in it.
The hunter told officers he went inside the store for a few minutes, and when he came out he saw his SUV leaving the lot with a man driving and a woman in the passenger seat, police said. The man used his "Find My iPhone" app to track his vehicle, according to police.
Officers caught up to the SUV on Roosevelt Avenue and tried to stop it, but Diffenderfer accelerated and fled, making his way to Newberry Street, then onto West Princess Street, where the SUV sheared off a utility pole and crashed into a large flowerpot, police said.
Diffenderfer continued to flee until he drove into a parking lot in the 200 block of West Market Street, where police closed off all avenues of escape, according to state police.
Surveillance video shows the SUV entered the lot at 4:29 a.m., followed by two York City police cruisers, one of which followed the SUV as the second blocked the sole escape route, according to documents.
Crashed into cruisers: Diffenderfer accelerated as he crashed into the cruiser nearest to him, "causing substantial damage" to it, police said.
Diffenderfer then forced the SUV past the second cruiser but couldn't get away.
That's when Huncher pulled behind the SUV, got out, drew his service pistol and ordered Diffenderfer to get out of the vehicle.
After ramming Huncher's cruiser and being shot, Diffenderfer "abruptly" turned, went through a large wooden fence and stopped against a concrete abutment along the Codorus Creek, documents state. Officers then arrested Diffenderfer and Brown.
Brown identified a backpack found in the SUV as belonging to Diffenderfer, according to police. Inside the bag was drug paraphernalia, including several syringes, smoking pipes, a spoon and rolling papers, police said.
Because Diffenderfer was shot by a York City officer, state police conducted an independent investigation at the behest of York City Police and the York County District Attorney's Office.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.