Authorities Leave Suspect Unguarded In Hospital

CLEVELAND (AP) - A fired Columbus police officer suspected of killing his wife and keeping authorities at bay on an interstate last week will remain unguarded in his hospital room because he has not been charged.

Hermando "Cliff" Harton, 39, was listed in critical, but stable condition at MetroHealth Medical Center on Thursday.

He is suspected of killing his 27-year-old wife last Friday in Columbus then later firing at deputies at a truck stop and leading them on a 30-mile chase. After a 4½-hour standoff on Interstate 71 north of Mansfield, he was shot when he fled into woods.

State Highway Patrol officers had been guarding Harton (pictured, above) since he arrived at MetroHealth with gunshot wounds to his back and arm.

The patrol stopped guarding Harton on Thursday afternoon, spokesman Lt. Gary Lewis said.

"We don't believe we should have a role in guarding an uncharged suspect," Lewis said.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said charges won't be filed until the county sheriff's department completes its investigation.

O'Brien said he was told Harton is paralyzed from the waist down. He said the only concern in leaving him unguarded would be if someone tried to get him out of the hospital.

Hospital spokesman Paul Patton said Harton had been awake and responsive for at least a day. He would not comment on whether Harton was paralyzed.

"We have our own police force and we're not necessarily guarding him either. As far as we're concerned, he's just a regular patient," Patton said.

None of the agencies involved in the case, or the hospital, could say who would pay for Harton's medical bills.

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