Ex-Policeman Shot In Highway Standoff

By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer

MANSFIELD, Ohio (AP) - A recently fired police officer suspected of killing his wife led authorities on a chase in a stolen sheriff's SUV and was shot and critically wounded Friday after a standoff (pictured, right) on Interstate 71, authorities said.

Authorities said they found Hermando "Cliff" Harton's 27-year-old wife, Elizabeth, dead in their Columbus home after responding to a report of a domestic dispute at 5:18 a.m., said Steve Martin, head of the Franklin County sheriff's detective bureau.

Harton, 39, was fired as a Columbus police officer on July 8 because of a September 2000 shooting in which Harton fired at the car of a fleeing shoplifting suspect while working security for a grocery store, said Acting Columbus Police Chief Antone Lanata.

Harton (pictured in graphic, above) called his former wife in California early Friday morning and told her he shot his wife, Franklin County Sheriff Jim Karnes said. She then alerted Columbus police.

The standoff ended when Harton jumped out of the SUV, ran into nearby woods (pictured in dash-cam video, above) and was shot and wounded by State Highway Patrol SWAT team members, said Lt. Gary Lewis, patrol spokesman.

"At this point he has been apprehended, he has been cuffed and we are attending to his medical needs," Lewis said.

Harton was in "very critical" condition at Ashland Samaritan Hospital and was flown by helicopter to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, spokeswoman Sharon Neura said. She would not say where he was shot.

Dozens of law enforcement officers surrounded the SUV for several hours on Friday morning near Mansfield. They found at least two guns in the SUV, Lewis said. He did not know if Harton took the guns into the woods.

I-71 was closed in both directions, but the southbound lane was reopened about 2 1/2 hours later.

About 11 a.m., troopers moved trapped northbound tractor-trailer trucks through a rest stop. Automobiles had already been turned around and sent south on the closed interstate.

The chase started after Harton and Morrow County sheriff's deputies exchanged fire at a truck stop near Mount Gilead, about 45 miles north of Columbus, Lewis said.

He then stole a marked sheriff's SUV and went north on the freeway about 30 miles before troopers stopped it with spikes placed on the pavement, Lewis said.

Harton had children with him but released them at some point, Lewis said.

The four children are believed to be Harton's, Martin said. The children are in the custody of Morrow County children's services, authorities said.

Neighbors said the couple had three children together and Harton had another child from a previous relationship.

Elizabeth Harton entered the police academy July 7, the day before her husband was fired, but that was coincidence, Lanata said. She was an average performer who didn't stand out, he said.

Flags were at half-staff Friday at the downtown police headquarters.

"She was one of ours, clearly," Lanata said.

Harton had been placed on desk duty during the investigation into the 2000 shooting, said Gary Holland, deputy director of safety.

Harton fired into the passenger window of the moving minivan with his service revolver and wounded the passenger, Holland said.

"His entire attitude all the way through is that he had to shoot the person in the car," Lanata said.

Harton's previous personnel record contained only "inconsequential" incidents, such as discipline for using more sick leave than he was permitted, Holland said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)