Ex-Policeman Involved In Standoff Accuses Troopers Of Excessive Force

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) - A man suspected of killing his wife, stealing a sheriff's vehicle and keeping troopers at bay on an interstate for 4½ hours before being shot by police is suing the state, saying it used excessive force in capturing him.

Lawyers for Hermando "Cliff" Harton filed suit in federal court here Thursday asking for at least $150,000 to cover medical expenses and punitive damages.

The standoff on Interstate 71 near Mansfield ended on Aug. 2 when Harton climbed out of the vehicle and fled into the woods. Lt. Gary Lewis of the State Highway Patrol said Harton was carrying two guns when he fled.

Officers confronted him in the woods and shot him three times, twice in the back and once in the arm. Harton's attorney, Sarah Thomas Kovoor, said he is paralyzed from the chest down. Kovoor said Thursday that police have the right to shoot a suspect only when that person poses an immediate threat to an officer or someone else.

The lawsuit says that once Harton was out of the vehicle, "he was not facing the assembled police officers, was pointing no weapon at them, and was creating no present threat or risk of physical harm to any person."

"You could have a gun to your side or in your holster and you are not posing a deadly threat to an officer," Kovoor said.

She said that because Harton was struck by three bullets, it's likely that "a barrage of shots" was fired at him.

The lawsuit also says that once Harton was shot, troopers were slow to provide medical attention for him.

A Highway Patrol spokesman, Lt. John Born, said, "We have not seen a copy of the suit, but a preliminary investigation that we have conducted at this point has shown that the officers acted within our policies, procedures and guidelines."

Born added, "They took really the only action at that time they could have taken."

Harton's wife, Elizabeth, 27, was found dead in the couple's Columbus home on Aug. 2. She was a cadet at the Columbus police academy and reportedly was seeking a divorce.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said Harton will be charged with aggravated murder and may face the death penalty if convicted.

According to authorities, Harton drove a sport-utility vehicle with his four children to a truck stop on Interstate 71 near Mount Gilead shortly after 5 a.m. on Aug. 2. He walked inside with two handguns and told people to clear out.

When Morrow County sheriff's deputies arrived, he went outside, fired four times, then fled north in a stolen sheriff's SUV until spikes placed by state troopers flattened the tires, police said.

Columbus police fired Harton, 39, on July 8 because he shot at the minivan of a fleeing shoplifting suspect while working a security detail for a grocery store about two years ago, said Acting Police Chief Antone Lanata. A passenger in the minivan was wounded.

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