Officer-involved shooting shakes Ocean View

Coastal Point • Submitted by Ocean View Police Department: The vehicle being driven on Saturday, March 18, by Ocean View Police Officer First Class Nicholas Harrington was badly damaged during the incident. Harrington received treatment for injuries sustained during the crash.Coastal Point • Submitted by Ocean View Police Department: The vehicle being driven on Saturday, March 18, by Ocean View Police Officer First Class Nicholas Harrington was badly damaged during the incident. Harrington received treatment for injuries sustained during the crash.In what many would describe as a quiet beach community, an incident occurred last weekend that caused many to pause and consider, “even in my town.”

On Saturday, March 18, a little after 10 p.m., Ocean View Police Department Officer First Class Nicholas Harrington was assisting Worcester County (Md.) Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Rhode in the pursuit of Troy Lee Short, 31, of Hurlock, Md.

Short had been spotted driving in an “erratic manner” by a deputy in Ocean City, Md., around 8 p.m. that evening. The deputy had attempted to stop the vehicle; however, Short fled.

“The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office initiated this whole thing in Maryland,” said Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin. “They went to conduct a traffic stop of a vehicle, and the vehicle fled. They chased him, lost him. He ditched a car, stole another car. He stole a couple cars throughout this couple-hour ordeal that unfolded in Maryland.”

According to the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, the suspect drove to the Berlin, Md., area where he crashed the vehicle he was driving, and then allegedly stole another vehicle before driving to Route 90 and abandoning that second vehicle.

The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office deployed a K-9 unit to help in the pursuit, which led officers to an area near Route 575. According to officials, by that time, the suspect had allegedly located another vehicle and stolen it. That third vehicle was abandoned by the suspect on St. Martin’s Neck Road, in the area of Lighthouse Sound near Ocean City.

The K-9 unit then led deputies to a nearby neighborhood, where a perimeter was set up, and a search began. During that time, Short allegedly burglarized a home and stole the occupant’s black Infinity SUV — the fourth vehicle he had driven that evening.

“Ultimately, he was spotted in a stolen car coming up in Bishopville, ditched that car, broke into a house in Bishopville, kicked the door in, got a set of keys and stole a car,” said McLaughlin of that incident.

Again, the deputies attempted to stop Short; however, he fled and traveled into Delaware. According to authorities, Short led deputies to the area of Burbage Road and Pine Grove Lane, just outside Ocean View. Harrington was dispatched to respond and assist.

Burbage Road turns into Pine Grove Lane after crossing over Windmill Road, and Short found himself on a dead-end street, with two law-enforcement officers — Harrington and Rhode — in their patrol vehicles behind him.

According to the DSP, when met with the dead-end, Short accelerated backwards at a high speed, directly into the front of Harrington’s fully-marked Ocean View patrol vehicle, pushing it off the roadway and activating its airbags, and almost striking the deputy’s vehicle as well.

“I don’t know how fast, but I can tell you it was bad,” said McLaughlin of the impact with Harrington’s 2015 SUV. “It’s just destroyed.”

Coastal Point • Shaun M. Lambert: By Sunday afternoon, March 18, police were done with the scene and all that remained was some damage from the chase the night before.Coastal Point • Shaun M. Lambert: By Sunday afternoon, March 18, police were done with the scene and all that remained was some damage from the chase the night before.According to police, the Infiniti continued backing at a high rate of speed, almost striking the fully-marked deputy sheriff’s vehicle and smashed into a homeowner’s mailbox, where it stopped momentarily before Short allegedly drove it back to the end of the street and turned the vehicle around.

At that point, Harrington was able to exit his police vehicle via the passenger-side door and returned to assist the deputy.

Short then allegedly drove toward Rhode and Harrington, who were both out of their vehicles and on foot. The two law-enforcement officers reported that they gave commands for Short to stop; however, according to officials, he continued to accelerate toward the two officers.

Both Rhode and Harrington fired multiple rounds at Short before the Infinity came to a stop in a homeowner’s yard.

The two officers then performed first aid on Short until EMT crews arrived. Short and Harrington were transported to Beebe Healthcare in Lewes. Short was later airlifted to Christiana Hospital, where, as of the Coastal Point’s Wednesday news deadline, he was still listed in critical condition. Harrington was released later that night with minor crash-related injuries. Rhode was uninjured during the incident.

Short has a long list of past criminal run-ins in the state of Maryland, including traffic violations, and charges of burglary and malicious destruction of property.

As of the Coastal Point’s press deadline, the Delaware State Police had not yet filed charges against Short.

Mid-week, the Delaware State Police Homicide Unit was in its early stages of a criminal investigation, which DSP Public Information Officer M.Cpl. Gary Fournier said is handled like any complex shooting investigation.

“Evidence is collected, witness and victim statements are obtained, and consultation with the Attorney General’s Office is conducted in order to file any charges.”

Fournier said the DSP has yet to receive the toxicology reports on Short; however, he noted that Short was initially being pursued under the suspicion of a DUI.

McLaughlin said Harrington’s vehicle was equipped with cameras, and police seized the vehicles, cameras, Harrington’s gun and other items as part of the investigation.

According to McLaughlin, Harrington — who joined the OVPD as a recruit in 2012 — is “holding up.”

“He’s going to be very sore from the crash injury. He took one hell of a jolt.”

Per department policy, anytime an officer is involved in a serious use-of-force incident, they are placed on administrative leave, said McLaughlin.

“In additional to the criminal investigation, the Ocean View Police Department will conduct an administrative investigation into the incident, but we probably won’t initiate that until the criminal investigation has been completed,” he said, noting the internal investigation relates solely to the review of any policy violations that could have occurred during the incident.

“We look at our use-of-force policies and make sure there was no policy-type violation. The state police will look at if there were any criminal violations on the part of the officers.

“I can tell you the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on plenty of occasions that, someone recklessly driving like that, putting other people at risk — officers are justified to use deadly force, whether it’s ramming the vehicle to end the pursuit or shooting the driver, to stop the person.”

McLaughlin said Harrington will be on leave for a minimum of 30 days.

“They have to go through some psychological debriefing, counseling. That’s part of our policy. It gives him time to recover from the incident. It’ll be for a minimum of 30 days, and then we’ll re-evaluate it.”

He added that he was thankful for the response from the Delaware State Police, Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, Millville Volunteer Fire Company, Sussex County EMS, police dispatchers and all other agencies that assisted that evening.

Police face greater dangers in today’s world

Along Pine Grove Lane on the day after the incident, car parts were still on the street, although neighbors had tried to sweep most of it up. The damaged mailbox remained untouched and flattened near the roadway, and a light post and tree where the Infinity eventually came to stop were heavily damaged.

Neighbors were still shaken up. Some said they had heard the shots; one said they had thought a transformer had blown. Another slept through the whole thing.

Everyone the Coastal Point spoke with, however, was amazed that something so terrible could happen on their quiet little street.

“Things are changing in Sussex County. It’s becoming a more dangerous environment for our officers, whether it’s our state corrections officers, state police, town police… I don’t know what the answer is. It’s just a reality,” said McLaughlin. “Ten years ago, this was a ghost town.”

OVPD Cpl. Rhys Bradshaw recalled an incident on the evening of March 5, in which a state trooper and two OVPD officers were dispatched to Fred Hudson Road.

“We got calls to our station, too, about a suspicious person running out in the roadway. SussCon also sent us out there,” noted of the Sussex County emergency communications dispatch center.

The two OVPD officers were the first on the scene and were able to apprehend Joshua P. Covelli, 25, of Dagsboro. The officers collected Covelli’s information and found that DSP Troop 4 had an active warrant out for his arrest.

“They detained him, placed him on a curb to sit down,” said Bradshaw, noting they were waiting for the trooper to arrive at that point. “While he was sitting, he was able to slip his cuffs out from under him. He stood up and attacked one of the officers, striking them in the face, at which time the Taser was deployed on him by the other officer.”

Slipping handcuffs is not wholly uncommon, said Bradshaw.

“Some people are just very flexible. You mostly see it with females. It can happen; I’ve seen it many times.”

Bradshaw said the suspect was Tased four times.

“He was extremely combative. It took that much to get him under control, basically.”

The officer who was struck by the suspect did not sustain any major injuries, and Covelli was turned over to Troop 4, and was additionally charged with Assault on a Police Officer. He eventually pled down to Offensive Touching of a Police Officer.

For such an incident, a use-of-force report must be filed by the administering officer.

“Each Taser pull is 5 seconds long, and you have to be able to justify each pull of that trigger.”

Bradshaw said the report was reviewed, and it was found that the use was within department policy.

“Unfortunately, these types of events are more common now,” said McLaughlin. “There’ve been a lot of close calls.”

McLaughlin said Saturday’s incident was only the second police-involved shooting since the department was founded in 1959.

“There was a prior shooting that occurred in 1991 where then-police chief Dennis O’Mally was run over by a gentleman in a pickup truck, in front of the old police department by John West Park. It broke both of his legs and caused some serious internal injuries, too. He shot five rounds into the vehicle.”

McLaughlin said people today seem more combative with officers, even if it’s just a traffic stop.

“Just the level of resistance we’ve seen from these folks is disturbing. That forces us to respond with some type of physical force… I think the key there is ‘respond.’ We’re responding to their actions, and we’re seeing more and more people being combative.”

The public as a whole is unaware of the dangers to law-enforcement these days, said McLaughlin, noting that most think it’s akin to “Andy and Barney” of “The Andy Griffith Show.”

“People don’t understand what we do. They don’t understand that there are inherent dangers associated with the job that we do, whether you’re in a one-man department or a 500-man police department. The dangers are there nonetheless.

“We don’t know what tomorrow’s going to hold. Thank God — it could’ve been a lot worse last night. Things are changing. It’s getting real dangerous for law-enforcement in this area. It’s everywhere.

“The whole peninsula is changing dramatically when it comes to crime,” said McLaughlin. “It’s getting dangerous out there for local law-enforcement. Thank God none of the law-enforcement officers were injured last night. It’s amazing Nick wasn’t injured in that crash.”