Charges: Southwestern officer who shot handcuffed man thought he was firing a Taser
A Southwestern Regional Police officer who thought he had pulled his Taser before shooting a handcuffed man will be charged in the incident, according to state police.
Six months after the Spring Grove shooting in a bank parking lot, state police filed charges against Officer Stuart "Stu" Harrison on Friday, Nov. 30.
Harrison, 56, faces a second-degree misdemeanor charge of simple assault.
Police said he shot 33-year-old Ryan Shane Smith Jr. while struggling to arrest the man May 30 in the parking lot of Santander Bank, 39 W. Hanover St.
Bank incident: State police said Harrison was arresting Smith for causing a disturbance at the bank, and Harrison fired his gun instead of his Taser.
Harrison was sent to the bank just before 5 p.m. after Smith was asked to leave the bank numerous times but refused, court documents state.
Smith believed he had an account at the bank but apparently didn't, according to documents.
In a June 5 interview with state police, Harrison said he approached Smith and told him he'd have to leave the bank and get identification to withdraw money, according to authorities.
'Acted reasonably': A witness told investigators that Harrison acted reasonably in trying to remove Smith, officials said.
Harrison told state police he didn't feel comfortable going "hands-on" with Smith, considering Smith's size and youth, Harrison's charging documents state.
Harrison tried to stun Smith with a Taser, but it didn't work, officials said.
Harrison called for backup after Smith ignored commands from the officer, police said. He tased Smith a second time, but again it had no effect, according to authorities.
Southwestern Regional Officer Michael Matthews arrived soon after to help Harrison, documents state, and the two of them took Smith to the ground.
Matthews tased Smith's back, and the officers were able to handcuff him, officials said.
Police interviewed Smith's mother, Christine Smith, who said her son had just gotten out of the hospital that day and seemed delusional, charging documents state.
Her son was under the impression that he had a bank account, and he told his mother that he was going to get money out of it, documents state.
Outside the bank: After handcuffing him, the two officers brought Ryan Smith to his feet and took him outside the bank toward Matthews' police cruiser, according to court documents.
Harrison told investigators that Smith refused to get into the back of the car and would not bend his head down or buckle his knees to get into the car, documents state.
Harrison tried several knee strikes on Smith, with no effect, charging documents state.
At that point Harrison decided he was going to "drive stun" Smith — meaning activate the Taser while it's pressed against a person, rather than shooting probes — to see if it would make Smith bend his leg, documents state.
He put what he thought was his Taser against Smith's right thigh and pulled the trigger, according to authorities.
"(Harrison) stated that as soon as he heard the sound, he knew it wasn't his Taser," charging documents state.
'Dude, why'd you shoot me?' Harrison told authorities it was not his intention to use his gun, police said.
Smith asked the officer, "Dude, why'd you shoot me?" according to the charging documents.
Harrison called York County 911 to tell them there was a shooting, and he asked for an ambulance, police said.
Harrison grabbed a first-aid kit from his car and handed it to Matthews, who then applied direct pressure to Smith's wound, according to police.
In his description of the shooting, Matthews told investigators he noticed one of Harrison's hands drop, and that he heard a noise which he knew was not a Taser, court documents state.
He said he did not know what Harrison was doing, police said.
What mother said: Christine Smith said she arrived at Santander Bank while officers were arresting her son, according to officials. She told officers that her son has a mental-health issue, court documents state.
Ryan Smith was sitting in the rear of the cruiser with his legs outside it when Christine Smith heard a loud bang, she told police, according to charging documents.
Christine Smith told investigators that she told police they shot her son, officials said. She said a bald police officer replied, "I didn't mean to," according to authorities.
Amanda Cozio, a bank employee, told investigators that she heard Christine Smith yell, "You didn't have to shoot him, he's not in the right state of mind," police said.
Authorities said someone video recorded the encounter with a cellphone, but there were no recordings of the events outside the bank.
About Harrison: In charging documents, police said Harrison has been an officer with Southwestern Regional Police since January 2003, and he had been with York City Police from July 2001 until then.
Additionally, police said he is a certified firearms instructor and certified Taser instructor for Southwestern Regional Police. Charging documents state that he last had Taser training in November 2016.
Southwestern Chief Greg Bean has said both officers were placed on paid administrative leave after the incident. Matthews was cleared within a week of the incident, he said.
On Friday, Bean said Harrison has been placed on unpaid administrative leave until further notice.
Ed Paskey, Harrison's attorney, said Friday he could not specifically comment on the charging documents because he had not yet reviewed them.
"Having been involved in this matter within minutes of it occurring, I can say this: This was purely an accident resulting from multiple external distractions faced by both officers at the scene," he said.
Harrison will be sent a summons by mail and will be arraigned at his preliminary hearing, which had not yet been scheduled as of Friday, according to District Judge Thomas Reilly's office staff.
Reilly will recuse himself from the case, meaning another district judge will be appointed to preside over the hearing, his staff said.
Reilly is a former prosecutor who frequently worked with officers from around York County.
Apologetic, regretful: Chief Bean released a statement Friday afternoon about Harrison's charge.
Bean said he respects the decision that the York County District Attorney's office made to charge Harrison.
"As a department we are apologetic to Mr. Smith and we regret this incident occurred," Bean wrote.
According to the statement, officers in the department have handled more than 1,000 mental-health crises, and Bean said Harrison had successfully handled these incidents dozens of times.
"On this occasion, it did not go as the officer planned," he wrote.
“The charges are a result of an incident that by all accounts, was a violent physical struggle between Officer Harrison and Mr. Smith that continued when another officer arrived to assist, and even after Smith was restrained. This type of incident is mentally and physically demanding and exhausting for police officers. The injury to Mr. Smith occurred well into this struggle, when the officer incorrectly and accidentally reached for the wrong tool on his belt. A mistake, albeit a very serious mistake," Bean's statement reads in part.
Bean wrote that researchers who have studied such incidents liken the error to that of a driver under great duress who hits the accelerator instead of the brake pedal.
The chief wrote that the department is disappointed that the review of the incident will be in a criminal courtroom. Harrison has been disciplined through the department, and other types of penalties have happened or will happen, Bean wrote.
"We hope that at the conclusion of this review process, the outcome is positive for all involved," he wrote.
About the victim: Ryan Smith was charged for the disturbance that led to his shooting.
He pleaded guilty at his Nov. 16 preliminary hearing to misdemeanor counts of defiant trespass and disorderly conduct, and he was sentenced to a year of probation.
During his hearing, Reilly asked him to admit to what he had done.
Ryan Smith, who entered the courtroom with a cane, told the judge he was released from the hospital for psychosis that day and was at the bank when an officer came in and got in his face.
"I guess I didn't leave when they told me to," he admitted to the judge.
As part of his plea agreement, Smith was sentenced to a year of probation that will run concurrently with his other sentences. He also must continue with his mental-health treatment.
Charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct were withdrawn at the time of Smith's guilty plea, court records state.
"I still feel like I was treated wrong," Ryan Smith said about the shooting before accepting the guilty plea.
— Senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo contributed to this report. Reach Christopher Dornblaser at email@example.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser. Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.