Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters announces results of use of force investigation

Independent review of Sheriff investigation finds no criminal conduct by Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputies in use of force investigation

Today, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters released the results of an independent review of the internal investigation by the Hamilton County Sheriff into the October 20, 2009 stop and arrest of John Harmon.  The review was conducted by Mildred K. O’Linn, Esq., of the Los Angeles law firm Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester, LLP.  Ms. O’Linn has been involved in numerous reviews of this type.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters asked Ms. O’Linn to conduct a review of the Sheriff’s Investigation into this matter to determine whether criminal charges against the deputies involved were appropriate.

Subject to the investigation for possible criminal acts were Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputies John Haynes, Matthew Wissel and Ryan Wolf. 

On October 20, 2009, at approximately 1:15 A.M. Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputies noticed that Mr. Harmon’s car had a burned out headlight and was weaving in and out of marked lanes in the vicinity of Clough Pike and Fireside Drive.  Deputy Ryan Wolf attempted to stop Mr. Harmon by activating the lights and sirens in his marked police vehicle.  Mr. Harmon failed to stop and continued his erratic driving.  Mr. Harmon’s vehicle was finally stopped after approximately a 1.5 mile slow pursuit.  When Mr. Harmon was finally stopped, he did not comply with the deputies’ orders to exit the vehicle.  Unbeknownst to the deputies, Mr. Harmon is a diabetic and was suffering diabetic shock as a result of his failure to take his Insulin at the time of this incident.  As a result of Mr. Harmon’s non-compliance, he was forcibly removed from his vehicle and tased in order to get him to comply and place him under arrest.  Several deputies participated in this arrest. 

Mr. Harmon was transported to the hospital where he was treated for his diabetic condition and a dislocated shoulder.  He was released a short time later and taken to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office where he was charged with Failing to Comply with a Signal of Police Officer, Resisting Arrest, Failing to Drive in Marked Lanes and Driving with One Headlight, all misdemeanors. The charges were later dropped at the request of the Sheriff.

The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department conducted an internal investigation into this incident and found that all three deputies acted improperly and disciplinary action was taken against all three, as well as their supervisor Sgt. Stuckey.  The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office reviewed the Sheriff’s internal investigation for possible criminal charges and, as part of this review Mr. Deters requested the assistance of an outside expert, Ms. O’Linn.

Ms. O’Linn concludes in her report, “From the information provided to me in this matter it is clear that Officers Ryan Wolf, Matthew Wissel and John Haynes acted without criminal intent during the course of the arrest of Mr. Harmon.  Mr. Harmon’s behavior and the manner in which he operated the motor vehicle and then failed to comply with the officers’ repeated direction appears to all have been a result of a medical condition that Mr. Harmon was suffering.  That condition however, does not automatically absolve Mr. Harmon of criminal responsibility for his actions.  Nor does this change what the officers reasonably believed at the time of their actions.  Looking at the totality of the circumstances, it is clear that the officers had probable cause to believe Mr. Harmon was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  Furthermore, the subject officers in the course of their duties did not act with any apparent malice, nor did they act knowingly or recklessly with heedless indifference to the consequences to Mr. Harmon.”

Prosecutor Deters commented, “I felt an independent review of this matter was important.  I appreciate the frank and candid opinion that Ms. O’Linn has provided my office.  Consequently, the criminal end of this case is concluded.”