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DA seeks to drop case against ex-Southwestern cop who shot handcuffed man

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

York County District Attorney Dave Sunday has asked a judge to throw out the criminal case against a Southwestern Regional police officer who shot a handcuffed man two years ago.

Stu Harrison, 58, now of South Carolina, is charged with the second-degree misdemeanor of simple assault for shooting Ryan Shane Smith in the leg in the parking lot of the Santander Bank at 39 W. Hanover St. in Spring Grove on May 30, 2018.

Testimony from Harrison's preliminary hearing indicated he thought he'd grabbed his Taser — which resembles a handgun — but had actually grabbed his duty handgun, put it against Smith's leg and fired as the unarmed, handcuffed Smith struggled with officers trying to put him in a police cruiser.

Smith was arrested in the bank after being disorderly and refusing to leave — demanding his money even though he had no account there, according to testimony. He suffers from mental-health issues, according to court documents.

After being shot by Harrison, Smith spent 11 hours in surgery for the gunshot wound he suffered, according to his mother, Christine Smith. He spent a month recuperating in the hospital, she has said. 

Christine Smith said she told Harrison after the shooting, "You just shot my son," and that Harrison responded, "I didn't mean to."

Ryan and Christine Smith on May 11 filed a lawsuit in Harrisburg's federal court against Harrison, the former Southwestern Regional Police Department, its now-disbanded police board and Spring Grove borough.

The Smith family has questioned whether the shooting is accidental.

Southwestern Regional Police Officer Stu Harrison

'Interests of justice': The motion — filed Thursday morning but signed by Sunday on May 19 — must be approved by presiding Common Pleas Judge Maria Musti Cook. She had not issued an order as of Friday afternoon.

"The interests of justice on a societal level and individual victim level required the prosecution of Mr. Harrison," the district attorney's motion states. "And the Commonwealth would continue its prosecution through trial if Mr. Harrison lacked remorse or any accountability for what occurred."

Sunday noted that Harrison was a well-respected police officer for 16 years before being suspended for the shooting, and that he served as a Marine before becoming an officer.

"Nothing throughout his career or personal life gives rise to the slightest concern that Mr. Harrison presents a future danger requiring an ongoing prosecution to protect the public," the motion states.

It also states that because Harrison has no criminal record, state sentencing guidelines recommend probation to up to a month in prison for a simple-assault conviction.

After the shooting, Harrison took "great steps" to prove he would not reoffend and expressed "a tremendous amount of remorse" for injuring Smith, the motion states.

Harrison subsequently gave two presentations to police-academy cadets about his experience, talking about how the cadets could avoid making the same mistakes and about appropriate conduct when dealing with people who suffer from mental illness, according to the motion.

State police investigate an incident at Santander Bank, 39 W. Hanover St., in Spring Grove Wednesday, May 30. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

Victim's mom: Sunday noted that Smith's mother is also a victim because she witnessed her son being shot. She also has power of attorney for her son, according to the motion.

In talks with the DA's Office, Christine Smith said she wanted to ensure that Harrison no longer carried a gun as a police officer and that her son's shooting at the hands of an officer be used to educate other officers, "so that what happened to her son did not happen to anyone else," the motion states.

"Both outcomes desired by Ms. Smith did occur," Sunday wrote, adding that Christine Smith still wants Harrison prosecuted criminally.

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"We certainly understand and respect her desire for further punishment," he wrote in the motion.  "But we conclude that would be the sole purpose behind obtaining a conviction at this point: punishment for punishment's sake. We conclude that justice requires that this cannot be the sole consideration for continuing a prosecution if all other factors merit discontinuing the case."

The Smiths' attorney, Timothy Salvatore, released a statement to The York Dispatch:

"As the Smiths' civil rights complaint makes clear, Stuart Harrison's wrongful conduct started in the bank and only culminated in the shooting. The District Attorney's decision to (drop) the charge against Stuart Harrison was met with surprise and disappointment by the Smiths. ... The concerns raised by District Attorney Sunday about the goals of prosecution would have been more properly addressed in sentencing. The societal accountability that results from prosecution cannot be adequately replaced by the civil redress available to the Smiths. It is only one part of seeing that justice is done."

Harrison's attorneys, Ed Paskey and Chris Ferro, declined comment until after the presiding judge reviews the motion and acts on it.

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Sunday wrote in his motion that Harrison has suffered lasting punishment, including being forever known for shooting Smith.

"Quite frankly, these circumstances provide far more of a lasting sanction than anything a conviction would bring," the motion states.

Ryan Smith, 34, of Nashville Boulevard in Jackson Township, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from being shot, his former attorney, Kurt Blake, has said.

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