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Superior Court: DA can't appeal York judge's ruling in case of cop charged with assault

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

The state Superior Court has rejected a request from prosecutors to intervene in a county judge's refusal to drop the case against a retired Southwestern Regional police officer who shot a handcuffed man sitting in the back of a police cruiser.

York County Common Pleas Judge Maria Musti Cook on June 15 denied District Attorney Dave Sunday's motion seeking to drop the simple assault charge Stu Harrison faces.

Monday's Superior Court ruling states that Cook's ruling could not be appealed because it was not a final order or a collateral order. The appeals court didn't rule on the merits of the prosecutors' motion.

The Superior Court first issued its ruling on Aug. 25, but motions for reconsideration were filed by both the DA's office and by Harrison's defense team, court records reveal.

The state appeals court reiterated its decision on Monday, according to court records.

"We are aware of the Superior Court's ruling and are evaluating our legal options to determine the proper course of action," Sunday told The York Dispatch.

Chris Ferro, who is defending Harrison, did not immediately respond Tuesday to a message seeking comment.

The background: Cook noted during a June 15 hearing that she had "a number of concerns" about the prosecution's motion that she nol pros, meaning dismiss, the misdemeanor simple assault charge against Harrison.

Southwestern Regional Police Officer Stu Harrison

Cases are generally nol prossed because the evidence in them doesn't support convictions, she noted.

"We did not find this to be a case of insufficient evidence," Cook said at the time. "We find that the purpose of nol pros has not been met."

Sunday filed a motion May 28 asking Cook to dismiss the case against Harrison in the "interests of justice."

In response, Ryan Shane Smith — the man Harrison shot in the leg as Smith was handcuffed and partially sitting in a police cruiser — wrote a letter to Cook opposing the request, asking that she set a hearing and stating, "I was pushed to the side and brushed under the rug and covered up."

Prosecutors maintain that Harrison, 58, now of South Carolina, 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. He has spoken to two groups of cadets in a police academy about his mistakes and how to avoid them, the DA has said.

More:Judge denies York DA's motion to drop case against ex-cop who shot man in leg

Inadvertent, officials say: It's believed by officials that Harrison inadvertently shot Smith after grabbing his .40-caliber handgun instead of his Taser, putting it against Smith's leg and firing when Smith wouldn't pull his legs inside the cruiser after being arrested for refusing to leave a Spring Grove bank.

At the June 15 hearing, Sunday told Cook he thought Smith's mother, who has power of attorney for her son, was giving him updates that were provided to her about the case.

Ryan Shane Smith

Christine Smith said in court that while she was told prosecutors were considering dropping the case, she didn't tell her son because she didn't think it was definitely going to happenand because he had a lot going on in his life. She said she wrote a letter to the DA opposing dropping the case.

Ryan Smith and his mother said in court that they believe Harrison should have been charged with something more serious than simple assault, which is a second-degree misdemeanor.

Sunday said he feels awful for the Smiths but that he and others repeatedly explained to Christine Smith why Harrison received just the simple assault charge.

He noted that in similar cases elsewhere, most district attorney's offices have chosen not to file any charges against officers.

No prison time: Sunday also argued in June that if the case goes to trial and Harrison is found guilty, "he might get a year of probation," or even less punishment.

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

Sunday told the judge that he stands by his decision to file the nol pros motion and believes in his heart it's the right thing to do.

This is "one of those unique cases" in which no available punishment will outweigh the pain and suffering felt by Ryan Smith and by his mother, according to the DA. Christine Smith was standing next to her son when he was shot and was spattered with his blood.

Ryan and Christine Smith both said they now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

'Upside down': Ryan Smith said he said he nearly died in the hospital and suffered a pulmonary embolism.

"My life was turned upside down," he said.

He noted that because he was handcuffed and sitting in the cruiser and because another Southwestern Regional officer was on scene, it would have been wrong for Harrison to shock him with a Taser, which is what officials believe Harrison was trying to do when he shot the man.

Christine Smith told Judge Cook that if dropping the case was, as the DA argued, in the interests of justice, then "I'm confused as to who the justice is for."

Christine Smith, center, husband Shane, and sister Cathy Glatfelter, right hold a peaceful protest in front of the York County Judicial Center after learning that the District Attorney's office has decided to drop charges against former Southwestern Regional Police Officer Stu Harrison, Monday, June 1, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

The shooting: The shooting happened May 30, 2018, in the parking lot of Santander Bank at 39 W. Hanover St. in Spring Grove.

Harrison was called there near the end of his shift because Ryan Smith, who has mental-health issues, was causing a disturbance in the bank, asking for his money when he didn't have an account there.

Smith and his mother subsequently 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.

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

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