AG’s office clears officers in shooting

Date Published: 
Dec. 15, 2017

The Delaware Department of Justice released the final report regarding the officer-related shooting that took place just outside of Ocean View on March 18.

“We did an in-depth investigation ourselves, and I had the luxury of being out there that evening, so I had a lot of first-hand information in regards to this particular event,” said Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin. “I wasn’t anticipating any surprises from the report. I think the entire thing was pretty straight-forward.”

According to the report, attorneys with the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust reviewed the use-of-force incident — including crime scene evidence, dash- and body-camera footage, reports written by officers who responded to the scene, and witness interviews.

“The investigation of the facts and circumstances fully support the reasonableness of the [Ocean View Police Officer Nick Harrington’s and Worcester County Sheriff Deputy Anthony Rhode’s] belief that their lives and the lives of each other were in danger,” reads the report, released earlier this week. “That belief was not formed recklessly or negligently. As a result, the use of deadly force was justified and therefore not subject to criminal prosecution.”

The Saturday evening the incident occurred, at approximately 8:10 p.m., Worcester County Sheriff Deputy Anthony Rhode reportedly spotted a green truck without its side-view mirrors with the driver, later identified as Troy Short, not wearing his seatbelt.

According to the report, Rhode activated the lights of his fully-marked patrol vehicle in an effort to conduct a traffic stop, however, Short neglected to stop, and in fact, led chase at speeds approaching 70 miles per hour in areas posted at 35 miles per hour.

During the pursui,t Rhode reportedly lost sight of Short, while other units reporting observed Short’s continued travel. Rhode was able to catch up with Short, east of Route 589 in Maryland. However, he was able to elude the officer again, according to officials.

Following the report of a burglary in progress at a residence in Berlin, Md., around 8:34 p.m., dispatch reportedly received a 911 call that a Chevrolet Blazer had been stolen from a residence. The vehicle was later found abandoned. At 9:21 p.m. dispatch reportedly received a report of a stolen black Chevrolet Silverado truck in the Bishopville area.

Officers observed Short driving the vehicle, and reportedly attempted to make contact by waving their flashlights to get him to stop, however he proceeded to drive. Minutes later, dispatch received a call reporting a burglary and the theft of a black Infiniti QX56 SUV from a residence in Bishopville, Md., according to reports.

In the report. it notes that a knife stolen from that same residence was recovered in the Infiniti later that evening.

In pursuit, Short was able to avoid stop sticks, and continued on Route 54 into Selbyville. By the time Short was south of Frankford near Peppermill Road, dispatch was aware of the vehicle’s location, and informed officers of the direction in which he was traveling, according to officials.

At one point, Short reportedly stopped the vehicle between two driveways on Main Street in Frankford. Rhode, still in pursuit, located the vehicle with help of dispatch.

Rhode observed Short was slumped completely over toward the passenger side with his hands still on the wheel. Rhode, who had his gun on the subject, was waiting for backup when Short reportedly woke up and looked over and attempted to start the car. Rhode yelled, “don’t do it,” according to reports, and took out his baton in an attempt to smash the driver’s side window.

“At about the third strike of the window, Mr. Short was able to place the car in drive, took off at the end of the driveway, jumping the curb, traveling through bushes and a front yard and fled on Route 26,” read the report.

Short was driving toward Pine Grove Lane, just outside of Ocean View. Officer Harrington, who was familiar with the area, advised SUSCOM of that fact and was following directly behind Short.

It was at that time, Short reportedly “brake-checked” Harrington before putting the Infiniti in reverse and accelerating into Harrington’s patrol car, around 10:30 p.m. The impact caused the airbags to deploy and significantly damaged the front end of the patrol car, and forced him to exit from the passenger side of the vehicle, according to police.

The report noted that the dash camera in Harrington’s vehicle was destroyed in the impact. McLaughlin said they believe the force of the airbag deployment caused Harrington’s body camera to turn on.

After colliding with Harrington’s patrol vehicle, Short continued to drive the Infiniti in reverse toward Rhode’s vehicle, however he missed it, striking a mailbox and driving into an empty lot.

Rhode reportedly drove his vehicle toward the lot, but parked it and exited after seeing the Infiniti’s driver’s side-door open. At that point, Short returned to the Infinity, made a u-turn, “and drove directly toward Deputy Rhode and Officer Harrington who had run to assist Deputy Rhode.”

According to the report, Rhode said while he tried to move left out of the vehicle’s path, Short changed course to follow.

Rhode had his gun drawn and yelled “stop,” but Short continued to drive toward the officers, according to police statements.

That is when Officer Harrington, who was behind and just to the left of Rhode, discharged his weapon in the direction of the vehicle in an attempt to stop Short, per the report. As both officers fired rounds, the vehicle veered and came to a stop in the front yard of a neighboring property.

The two officers then gained access to Short, and called for paramedics, as Short had suffered a gunshot to the head.

Paramedics arrived to the scene and provided aid to Short and Harrington. Short was critically injured but did survive the shooting.

“It’s a sad situation,” said McLaughlin. “It’s a shame the individual had to be injured.”

The report stated that a toxicology report confirmed the presence of multiple drugs in Short’s system.

“This is just another tragedy related to the drug epidemic. Just another sad story of someone who gets hooked on hard drugs. It’s unfortunate there’s nothing but tragedy that comes out of it,” said McLaughlin.

While the report found there to be no reason for criminal charges to be filed against Rhode or Harrington, it doesn’t preclude Short or his family from filing a civil suit.

“However, the combination of our administrative investigation and the criminal investigation, which really delved into the facts of the case with two different perspectives… it would be quite a difficult road for them to pursue,” said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin said he was confident that the actions taken by Harrington and Rhode were lawful following the incident, as his department also conducted an administrative review of the event.

“We primarily look for policy violations but we’re also looking for other things, anything that was done — right or wrong — that could be used for training purposes. Quite frankly we didn’t uncover anything that was wrong in any aspect.”

McLaughlin said running toward a dangerous situation is part of a police officer’s every day job description, and was pleased with how the two officers handled the situation.

“You don’t know when it’s coming, but when you’re called you have to rise to the occasion. I think that’s exactly what Officer Harrington and Deputy Rhode did. They were in a critical situation, everything was happening very fast, and their performances are to be commended.

“This is not something that happens often in the Ocean View area, thank God. Hopefully it’ll be another 20 years before we have another officer-involved shooting, but the fact of the matter is, the day after the event we were training for the next one.”

McLaughlin said he was grateful his officers receive extensive training to be able to deal with life-threatening situations in milliseconds.

“There’s a lot of preparation and training that we’ve invested into Officer Harrington and it paid off, as he and Deputy Rhode were able to come away unscathed,” he said. “His performance is commendable. He had the option, as anyone does, to turn around and run the other way. They didn’t do that. They stood their ground and confronted the threat and mitigated it. They were able to stop this individual who was really putting society in danger that evening, especially the motoring public and the other officers involved…

“It’s a miracle… I’ve watched the videos and the driving on the part of Mr. Short was absolutely outrageous. It was about as reckless as you can imagine and it’s a sheer miracle he didn’t end up colliding with another vehicle… other than Officer Harrington’s, obviously. He was a clear dangerous to the public. Both of them are heroes as far as I’m concerned.”

McLaughlin said he is proud of how his whole department handled the situation that evening and in the weeks follow for their professionalism, support and commitment to serving the citizens of Ocean View.

“I was so proud of everyone that evening — all the members of the department — on how we were able to mobilize and put our plans and policies for dealing with an officer-involved shooting immediately,” said McLaughlin. “The whole thing — Nick’s actions out there and his performance, and the performance of everyone in the department that evening and the days and weeks afterwards made me really proud of everyone here.”