DA: Trooper justified in fatal shooting after foot chase in Palmyra woods

Written by The Associated Press | Feb 10, 2019 3:34 PM
Pennsylvania State Police building.jpg

A sign marks the location of the barracks for the Pennsylvania State Police in Blooming Grove Township, Pa. (AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam)

(Lebanon) -- A state trooper who shot a man armed with a knife after a foot chase last year in central Pennsylvania was justified in firing and will not face any charges in the man's death, a prosecutor said.

Authorities said troopers in Lebanon County went to serve a warrant on Mitchell Hammer in Palmyra on Dec. 18 but he ran off into the woods. Police said a foot chase ended after a confrontation between Hammer, 27, of Annville, who had a Bowie-style knife, and a trooper who opened fire.

District Attorney David Arnold told reporters last week that Hammer ran into a muddy area with brush and thorn bushes and found himself trapped between the Swatara Creek on one side and cliffs on two other sides. The lone pursuing trooper didn't realize that his escape was blocked, he said.

Arnold said the trooper told Hammer repeatedly to stop running and drop the knife, but instead the man advanced with the knife in a threatening manner. The trooper slipped in the mud and fell onto his back and Hammer continued to advance with the knife, and the trooper then shot him several times, he said. Arnold said Hammer fell to his knees but got back to his feet, and the trooper fired several more times. In total, he fired nine shots, hitting Hammer seven times, Arnold said.

Arnold said the trooper, who has recently returned to duty, could not have avoided using deadly force without jeopardizing his own safety and that of others.

"Quite frankly, his quick and his proper response may well have saved his own life and potentially the lives of his fellow troopers," he said.

Arnold said other investigators examined the scene and confirmed the treacherous nature of the terrain, the knife in the creek and the smear marks where the trooper fell, backing up his story. Arnold said a pathology report confirmed that Hammer was under the influence of crystal methamphetamine, a drug he said can give the user "almost superhuman strength."

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