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Police Press Conference on Ohio Standoff

Aired August 2, 2002 - 11:35   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have new information now about the standoff that was taking place on I-71 in Ashland, Ohio. A former police officer holding other law enforcement officers at bay before he jumped out of a stolen sheriff's SUV and jumped over the barrier of the highway and went into the woods. There was an exchange of gunfire. And the man who we believe to be Cliff Harton, 39-year-old, taken away in an ambulance, taken to Ashland Samaritan Hospital.
We have with us on the phone right now Sharon Nora (ph) from that hospital to give us the latest on Cliff Harton's condition.

Ms. Nora (ph), good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, Daryn. How are you?

KAGAN: I'm doing fine.

Can you give us the update on the status on Cliff Harton, please?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I can. He actually was received by our emergency department at 10:55 a.m. by ambulance. A 27-year-old African-American male arrived here at Samaritan Hospital in very serious condition. He was evaluated by our ER team, and he is now being life-flighted to Metro Health Medical Center.

KAGAN: Can you tell us the nature of his injuries?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He did receive three gunshot -- multiple gunshot wounds.

KAGAN: And what would his status be: critical or...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very critical.

KAGAN: Very critical.

You say he's 27 years old? The man we were following, believed to be, is 39 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We received a 27-year-old male. I cannot release any names at this time, but that is the gentleman that we received, a 27-year-old African-American male that was brought here at 10:55.

KAGAN: All right, Sharon Nora (ph) with Ashland Samaritan Hospital, thank you for the latest. Now we want to go to Columbus, Ohio. This is the police department that we believe Cliff Harton was working for before he lost his job.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ASST. CHIEF ANTONE LANATA: ... hired July 7. What from I can put together talking to the people at the academy, she was an average recruit. She might have been the fastest female runner the class, but not the strongest. She was good academically. She came to the academy prepared both physically and mentally. She knew what she was going to face and did it well. She didn't stand out in the crowd. She wasn't jumping up waving her hand, nor when asked a question she was able to answer it.

There are three weeks into an academy class. I have worked at the academy as officer, sergeant, lieutenant and captain. So I pretty much know how that works. At this point, there is an awful lot of people that just stay in the middle of the crowd, and that's what she was. Her husband, who at least is, as I understand it, from again, the news media, is a suspect in her murder, Hernando, used to be a Columbus Police Officer. He was fired on July 8, coincidentally the day after she started.

That came out of an incident that occurred back in September of 2000. He was working special duty at a Kroeger's store at Livingston and Parsons. He tried to apprehend a shoplifter and fired a shot, which missed or did not hit the shoplifter, but hit the passenger in the car. This was quite a long, rancorous investigation. Went to safety director's office at least twice, and it was finally determined that he was not a correct shooting and he should be terminated. And that's what happened out of that.

That's really all I have to say. I'll try -- or Director Holland is here now. He is acting safety director. Let me turn it over to him.

Thank you, Chief Lanata.

GARY HOLLAND, DEPUTY SAFETY DIRECTOR, CITY OF COLUMBUS: Good morning. I'm Gary Holland, the deputy safety director, acting on the authority of Director Mitchell Brown, who is unavailable today.

I want to take this opportunity to this community and to the family of Elizabeth Harton to express the department's heartfelt and most sincerest sympathy for the tragic events that have occurred. It is a situation that is regrettable. We hope that we never have to be confronted with this type of situation. The police in all jurisdictions have performed admirably, very professionally. We are proud of their work. We hope that as the day moves forward and events continue to unfold that there is a rainbow at the end of the rain that has visited this family. We hope and pray that the children are well, that they don't suffer continuing trauma as a result of these events. And that would conclude my statement at this time. QUESTION: Mr. Holland, when you talk about the children? What do you know? How many children were with him when he left (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and where those children were dropped off or got out of that van somehow?

HOLLAND: I'm not in the position, quite frankly, Penny, to discuss the investigation itself. That would be material information. I know that the children are well and in the custody of the proper child welfare authorities and that all are aware of the situation. That's as far as can I go.

QUESTION: Do you know how many?

HOLLAND: I'm told three children are involved.

QUESTION: Chief Lanata, can you talk about if he was fired, he did not have a service revolver. She as a recruit, did she have a weapon that might have been in the house? Trying to figure out what weapon he might have had.

LANATA: Well, while I said that I had worked at the academy at every step, my last experience there was in 1983. In those days, a recruit did not get a service weapon anywhere near the third week. I'm assuming that is still true, but I'm not absolutely positive.

Now, he did not have -- I'm sure we took his service gun when they leave in what we call "not in good standing." We take the badge and gun. And I'm reasonably sure that happened. You know, that does not prevent him, obviously, from owning several other guns.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was terminated, what was the response from him in terms of what led to the events based on that termination? Was some time ago -- what happened (UNINTELLIGIBLE) today? Do you guys have any indication of how he was acting, his response when he knew he was going to get fired or was fired?

LANATA: No, I know of nothing like that whatsoever. Again, I wasn't there when he was served with the papers to be fired. I can tell you that his -- just from talking to others that knew him well, his entire attitude all the way through was that he had to shoot the gun when he did or he would he have been killed by the person in the car. And he believed that.

QUESTION: Do either of you have information as to how he suffered his wounds? We're assuming they were self-inflicted, but the hospital says that there were multiple gunshot wounds. Do you know if he was fired by any officers on the scene?

LANATA: No, that would again be up to the highway patrol or the county officers who were there. And I have no way of knowing for sure what those wounds were. Again, I'm hearing -- I have heard several media reports, but I don't think you want me just to repeat those.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

HOLLAND: No, the chief and I are privy to the same information and sources. I have no information I can add.

QUESTION: When was the last time Elizabeth reported to the academy or was seen...

LANATA: Every indication I have is that she was there at work yesterday.

QUESTION: Do have you any information from this contentious issue of this firing, about his state of mind? Did he go for counseling? Did he threaten? Do you know anything about this long incident that happened way back in 2000?

LANATA: No, again I know absolutely nothing about it except that I had been told by officers who knew him well that his position all the way through was that if he had not fired the gun when he did, the man in the car, person in the car would have run over him.

QUESTION: Two years ago, what was his last assignment? And are you releasing (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

LANATA: Well, the answer to the first one, my understanding is he has worked in the patrol office until the termination. That's fairly standard under these kind of things.

As to the releasing of his personnel file, that's a public record, I would assume, and there is a natural process of doing it. I don't have any intention to stop it. I don't know even what the process is for sure, but go get it.

QUESTION: Prior to 2000 (UNINTELLIGIBLE), were there any other disciplinary problems (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

LANATA: You know?

HOLLAND: There had been some minor disciplinary issues, which would be apparent in his file. But nothing that would rise to the level to create the kind of anxiety that several of you reporters have described.

QUESTION: What were those minor disciplinary actions?

HOLLAND: I can only comment on a sick use -- well, I wouldn't want to call it abuse of sick leave, but apparently, he was not aware that he had run out of sick time and had taken some unmarked time. But again, it is fairly inconsequential in the performance of an officer's daily duties.

QUESTION: Chief, you said that he was in the patrol office until he was fired. So was he on active duty up until the day he was fired?

LANATA: As far as I know, he was. What happens is these (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is we take the badge and gun and put him on a job answering telephones somewhere. And the patrol office is one of the normal places.

QUESTION: Is that administrative duty? LANATA: Yes, just administrative duties. And there is someone there to supervise. It's kind of the position we have gotten into with unions.

QUESTION: So when he had been on administrative duty since the incident in 2000?

LANATA: I don't know how much of that time would he have been. But probably, very well could have been the whole time. But it may have gone on until the Firearms Board ruled.

KAGAN: We have been getting some more information about the man who apparently was involved in that standoff with Ohio law enforcement officials that we have been tracking for most of the morning. This is a story is hitting the Columbus Police Department particularly hard. We have to find out -- actually, we knew that that man involved, 39- year-old Cliff Harton was a former police officer fired just a few weeks ago from the Columbus Police Department. Now we know why. Apparently back in September of 2000, Cliff Harton was involved in a shoplifting incident in which he shot not the suspect but a passenger in the car. An investigation was taken on that and believed to show that that was not appropriate. So Cliff Harton was let go.

What we did learn in that news conference, Elizabeth Harton, his wife, who official believe Cliff Harton killed yesterday, was a police recruit at the Columbus Police Department, had just started her training a few weeks ago. Also we had learned earlier that Elizabeth Harton served Cliff Harton with divorce papers; perhaps that is what kicked off this crime spree.

He is accused of killing her and then taking off on this chase that ended up on I-71 in Ashland, Ohio. It ended with Cliff Harton being shot a number of times. We also had a chance there to talk to hospital authorities, who say that Cliff Harton was shot at least three times. He is being air lifted to another hospital, but he is still alive.

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