Police officer facing trial in shooting at Spring Grove bank
Despite argument from his defense attorney that criminalizing his actions is "unfair and unwarranted," Southwestern Regional Police Officer Stu Harrison is now facing trial in York County Court.
State police said he shot a handcuffed man with mental-health issues who previously had been resisting arrest in a Spring Grove bank on May 30.
Harrison thought he'd grabbed his Taser but had actually grabbed his duty handgun when he accidentally shot Ryan Shane Smith Jr., 33, in the parking lot of Santander Bank, 39 W. Hanover St., according to charging documents.
Harrison, 56, of East Manchester Township, remains free on his own recognizance, charged with the second-degree misdemeanor of simple assault. His formal court arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 25.
First assistant district attorney Jen Russell and senior deputy prosecutor John Hamme called three witnesses at Harrison's preliminary hearing Friday, Dec. 21 — Smith's mother, investigating state police Trooper Daniel Weldon and Amanda Hendrickson-Cozio, a cleaning person for the bank who witnessed what happened in the bank's parking lot between police and Smith.
They also played a cellphone video shot by a bank employee inside the bank as Smith repeatedly refused to leave and argued with Harrison. Testimony revealed Harrison was dispatched to the bank after an employee there called 911 because Smith was being disorderly.
Negligence required: Defense attorney Chris Ferro, assisted by attorney Ed Paskey, argued to presiding District Judge Lindy Sweeney that for prosecutors to prove Harrison committed simple assault, they must prove he acted negligently.
Ferro noted that when Harrison and another officer put Smith — who had his hands cuffed behind his back — into the rear seat of a police cruiser, Smith refused to pull in his legs, and the officers couldn't shut the door.
The officers also were contending with Smith's mother, who was standing next to them and who the bank's cleaning person said was yelling and screaming to officers that her son had mental-health issues.
"Officer Harrison makes a decision," Ferro said, to tase Smith's leg in an effort to get Smith to pull his legs into the cruiser.
Malpractice analogy: "To criminalize that millisecond is unfair and unwarranted," Ferro argued to the judge, saying it's no different than criminally charging every doctor who commits malpractice.
"That (situation) could have gone very badly, very quickly," Ferro continued, then asked Sweeney to dismiss the charge.
But Russell argued that Smith was suffering from mental-health issues and that his crime was trespassing.
"He wasn't punching, kicking. He wasn't assaulting anyone," she said. "This wasn't a dangerous situation. It was merely a frustrating situation. ... The officer acted criminally negligently."
Under questioning by Russell, Weldon testified it went against Southwestern Regional's departmental policy for Harrison to tase a handcuffed man.
No deal expected: After the hearing, Ferro said he wasn't surprised the judge forwarded Harrison's case to York County Court for trial because the standard of proof at preliminary hearings is much lower than at trial, which is "beyond a reasonable doubt."
"We've not even begun to scratch the surface of our defense in this case," he said, adding he expects the matter will go to trial, rather than end in a plea agreement.
Ferro said "it will be crystal clear" at trial that Harrison "is innocent."
He said he doesn't know whether Harrison, who is on unpaid leave, will get his job back if he's acquitted.
"It'll be a sin if he doesn't," Ferro said. He described Harrison as "an incredibly respected" officer.
The video: The video from inside the bank, which is a little less than five minutes in length, showed Harrison telling Smith to leave the bank.
But Smith insisted he wouldn't leave the bank without his money. He didn't have an account at that bank, but thought he did:
"I'm not f—ing leaving, man. I'm not leaving without my money," Smith told Harrison. "Back up, man. Why are you f—ing with me?"
"Listen," Harrison replied, "we're going outside."
The video shows that after Smith repeatedly refused to leave the bank, Harrison tased him several times, but the shocks appeared to have no effect on Smith. He had been released from the psychiatric unit of York Hospital the day before he was shot, testimony revealed, and his mother said in court she believed he could still be delusional and paranoid.
'Turn around': Smith and Harrison continued to argue about whether Smith would leave, the video showed.
"Turn around and put your hands behind your back," Harrison ordered, but Smith refused.
At that point fellow Southwestern Regional Officer Michael Matthews arrived because Harrison had called for backup.
The two officers took the struggling Smith to the ground and handcuffed him.
Once handcuffed, Smith walked out of the bank with the officers and sat in the back of the cruiser, according to testimony, but then he wouldn't put his legs inside.
Other testimony: Hendrickson-Cozio testified that as she watched from her car, she saw the officers lead Smith to the cruiser. The three men weren't yelling or struggling, and the officers weren't overly aggressive, she said.
She said Smith's mother was the loudest person there — upset and crying and yelling.
"(She said) 'You guys don't understand — he's not in the right state of mind,'" Hendrickson-Cozio testified. "She said it, like, 20 times."
Hendrickson-Cozio — who used her cellphone to take photos of the encounter — said that after Harrison shot Smith, Harrison "was shocked."
"The police officers helped him to the ground and aided him," she testified.
Christine Smith testified that after the shooting, she told Harrison, "You just shot my son."
"He said, 'I didn't mean to,'" the mother testified. "I thought he was going to help me ... and help my son. I always trusted police officers."
11 hours of surgery: Ryan Smith was in the hospital for a month recovering from his gunshot wound, according to his mother.
"He was in surgery for 11 hours," Christine Smith told the judge.
Weldon testified Harrison's Glock handgun was on the right side of his utility belt, and his Taser was on the left side.
The Taser that Harrison carried that day has a trigger and a handle the way handguns do, Weldon confirmed on cross-examination.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.