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West Manchester Township's police chief has released the name of the officer cleared this week in the fatal shooting of a shoplifting suspect last summer.

Officer Christopher Mills feared for his life when he shot Logan James Montgomery a single time on Aug. 25, 2018, killing him during a struggle inside a Manchester Township motel room, according to Chief John Snyder.

"It should be noted that Officer Mills administered first aid to Montgomery immediately after Montgomery was injured," Snyder wrote in a news release issued Tuesday, Nov. 27.

The chief's news release came a day after York County District Attorney Dave Sunday publicly announced that he had determined the officer was justified in shooting Montgomery and that Mills not only feared for his own life — he feared for the lives of others. Sunday did not release Mills' name, leaving that decision to Snyder.

Bravery, constraint: "Officer Mills demonstrated bravery, constraint and professionalism," Snyder stated. "His training and situational awareness were certainly factors in saving his own life."

Snyder noted that, in addition to protecting the public, it's his job as chief to keep his officers safe as well.

"This incident is a reminder to everyone that each day an officer works in this dangerous profession they are at peril," he wrote. "Police work requires officers to make split-second decisions during high-stress situations that will be examined and investigated over long periods of time."

The chief told The York Dispatch that an internal West Manchester Township Police investigation also cleared Mills of wrongdoing. That internal investigation determined Mills followed all department policies and regulations the day Montgomery was killed, he said.

The shooting: Montgomery, 29, was staying at the Motel 6 along Arsenal Road (Route 30) on Aug. 25 when he was killed after pulling a gun and firing at Mills, according to a report made public Monday by the DA's office.

The report also states that Montgomery had obtained a handgun that morning "for the stated purpose of committing armed robberies."

Mills was investigating a retail theft from Walmart at the West Manchester Town Center and identified Montgomery and his wife as suspects after running the license plate of the vehicle the alleged shoplifters used, according to the report.

Mills, accompanied by a Northern Regional police officer, went to the couple's room and took Montgomery into custody, the report states.

As the officer was going through Montgomery's pockets, "Montgomery pulled away aggressively and twisted his body to the left of the officer," Sunday's report states. "While the officer was attempting to regain control, Montgomery moved his hands to the right side of his body and discharged a firearm."

Mills pushed Montgomery away to create distance between them, then drew his duty firearm and shot Montgomery, the report states.

More: DA clears West Manchester officer who killed theft suspect firing on him

Sunday said in his report that "witness statements and physical evidence support a clear conclusion that after being shot at, this officer's fear of death or serious bodily injury was certainly justified."

Montgomery — who police said previously lived in Columbia, Lancaster County — died of a single gunshot wound, the report states.

Policy change: Going back two decades, the DA's office has made officers' names public after investigations into police-involved shootings were concluded.

After Sunday took office in January 2018, he changed his office policy to put that decision in the hands of individual police departments.

Sunday told The York Dispatch he believes public accountability is critical and that a free press is "a vital component to who we are as Americans" but that those concerns must be weighed against the privacy interest of individuals.

He also said that because his office is considered the investigative agency when it comes to police-involved shootings in York County, he must follow the state's Criminal History Record Information Act.

CHRIA states that investigative agencies should not release the names of people who are investigated but not charged, according to Sunday.

'The right thing to do': "I've put a lot of thought into this, and based on our role as an investigative agency, it's the right thing to do," he said, adding that he's spoken with other district attorneys in Pennsylvania who have enacted the same policy, including those in Chester, Dauphin and Montgomery counties.

The DA said some police chiefs in York County have indicated they are willing to release the names of officers in such situations.

Specifically, Northern York County Regional Police have released the names of two officers this year who were cleared in separate fatal shootings.

"From my perspective as a district attorney ... our principles of justice are premised on prosecuting criminals but also on protecting the innocent," he said, adding that includes officers who are justified in shooting civilians.

"If the law states otherwise, I'm open to taking another path," he said. "But based on my reading of the law and (conversations with other DAs), that's the position I've taken."

Sunday said he met and spoke with Montgomery's family and provided them with a full summary of the entire investigation, which is his policy.

Accountability: A Pennsylvania media-law expert said she believes the state's CHRIA law allows district attorneys to release names of officers who have been cleared of wrongdoing in police-involved shootings.

"It's unusual for the district attorney to abdicate that responsibility to individual police departments because it leads to disparate access across the county," said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. "One community gets the names, another doesn't."

She said it's important for the public to trust their law-enforcement officials and that it's difficult to foster trust when information is withheld.

"It's important when officers are involved in these kinds of incidents that (officials) release as much information to the public as possible, so the public can understand what happened, who was involved and the actions taken as a result," Melewsky said. "That's the basis for releasing this information. You can't have accountability without access."

Police officers are public employees, she said, meaning their names, salaries, dates of hire and other information is open to public scrutiny.

"The law encourages agencies to provide as much information as possible when it serves the public interest," Melewsky said. "This is a perfect example of that."

The background: State police conducted an independent investigation into the shooting, which is standard procedure in York County, Sunday said.

At the time, Montgomery's wife was pregnant, according to his obituary. There is no record of her being charged with shoplifting from Walmart that day.

Snyder said Mills was placed on paid administrative leave after the fatal shooting and has remained on leave, awaiting the DA's determination about whether the shooting was justified.

That's normal procedure for his department. according to the chief.

"It takes time. Unfortunately, that's what has to happen," Snyder said. "Sometimes this process takes up to two years."

Mills will return to regular active duty soon, according to the chief.

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

 

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