Official: Officer Would Not Have Been Hired Under New Standards

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A fired police officer suspected of killing his wife, stealing a sheriff's vehicle and keeping troopers at bay on an interstate for 4 1/2 hours wouldn't have met the department's current hiring guidelines, a city official said.

Hermando "Cliff" Harton Jr., who became an officer in 1994, would have been immediately disqualified because he told an interview panel he carried a concealed weapon, said Lynn Carter, deputy director of the Columbus Civil Service Commission.

"Bottom line, he wouldn't meet the standards," she said.

Even if he did, his chances would have been hurt, Carter said, because he ranked 704 out of 763 candidates with his score of 71.07 out of 100 on the civil-service exam.

A police review panel recommended against hiring Harton in 1993, citing credit problems, poor performance on a polygraph test and his admission that he carried a concealed handgun for protection, according to his personnel records. Harton appealed and was hired.

He was fired July 8 after a two-year investigation into a shooting that wounded a man. His wife, Elizabeth Harton, had been accepted as a cadet the day before. She was reportedly seeking a divorce.

Mrs. Harton, 27, was found dead in the couple's home Aug. 2, about the same time her husband fired at deputies at a truck stop 45 miles north, stole a sheriff's sport-utility vehicle and led troopers on a 30-mile chase and standoff that ended when he was shot.

No charges have been filed against Harton. He was in stable condition Sunday at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.

Hiring standards that Harton met were changed amid worries about underqualified candidates being hired, said Frederick Ransier, former president of the Civil Service Commission.

In late 1994, officers accused then-Safey Director Leonard P. Keller of hiring too many people with questionable backgrounds.

A June 1995 report found the hiring process was too subjective and discriminated against women and minorities. The commission made standards more specific in 1996.

Under today's standards, a candidate would be automatically disqualified for four moving violations within three years or carrying a concealed weapon in the past five years.

Harton had at least five speeding tickets in three years before applying, personnel records show.

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