Ohio officer fatally shot while responding to domestic involving EDP
Mentally ill suspect had made threats against police before
By Rachel Dissell, Donna Miller and Scott Stephens
He didn''t accomplish his goal.
Instead, the husky man known to be violent when off medication for mental illness hurled a brick at a police cruiser, denting the passenger door, and punched an officer, breaking his glasses and bruising the right side of his face.
Police say Halton acted with the same maniacal rage Friday night when he fired a 9 mm handgun at Cleveland Heights officer Jason West with no provocation.
West, 31, was hit in the face and leg and never regained consciousness. He died at Huron Hospital hours later with his mother, father and sister at his side, according to Police Chief Martin Lentz. West was not married.
The seven-year veteran of the force was the first to arrive on Altamont Avenue shortly before 10 p.m. after a resident complained of a large street fight, which police later learned had started over a girl.
West used his cruiser to block a car that Halton had backed into a driveway near the brawl.
Another police car was behind West''s and a third officer was coming up the street from the opposite direction.
It was at that point that West got out of his cruiser and was shot. Lentz said he was wearing a bullet-resistant vest.
Officers arrested Halton, 27, soon after he broke into a nearby house on Beechwood Avenue, where he hid on the second floor. The semi-automatic gun used in the shooting was found in a nearby driveway. Lentz said the gun had been reported stolen from Indiana County, Pa., last year.
Halton was being held in Cleveland Heights Jail.
A weary-looking Lentz told reporters Saturday that West was a dependable officer who had been promoted twice since joining the department in 2000 after graduating from Tiffin University. His duties were as an investigator.
"He was immersed in the job," Lentz said. "He was a fine young man."
One couple was so impressed with West''s demeanor that they wrote a letter to the city that was read at a council meeting in 2005. They complimented him for going out of his way to help them get a tow truck when their car broke down.
When Lentz was asked whether he offered comforting words to West''s family, he said he knows from personal experience that "there''s really not much anyone can truly say that makes anything better."
Lentz''s father, Cleveland police Lt. Edward G. Lentz, was killed in 1957 as he attempted to question an armed robber. Chief Lentz, who was sworn in as a policeman shortly after, said that, like his father, West still had his gun in its holster when he was shot.
West is the third Cleveland Heights officer killed in the line of duty. The other officers died in 1920 and 1948. Both were responding to burglaries.
Cleveland Heights Mayor Ed Kelley said the community would not forget West''s sacrifice. "As I attended my kids'' ball games today, the community outpouring of sympathy and prayers for the officer and his family is overwhelming. He will never be forgotten. He will always be in our hearts."
In the quiet subdivision near Northgate Park in Avon where West grew up, neighbors were stunned by his death.
Pete and Bonnie Eldred, the next-door neighbors of West''s parents, said the news of the policeman''s death was all they could think about Saturday.
The couple''s daughter, Christine, graduated with West from Avon High School.
"She''s been crying all day," said Bonnie Eldred.
Several blocks away, West''s relatives gathered at his grandmother''s home. A large American flag in the yard stood at half- staff. The family declined to comment.
Residents on Altamont seemed traumatized by the shooting, which was witnessed by dozens of children. But they weren''t surprised at where the tragedy began.
Most residents pointed out the yellowish-brown double home at 3407 Altamont as the source of problems.
They said the downstairs porch was often crowded with teens and young men drinking and talking openly about drug use. Many of the neighbors were hoping that the police would raid the home and board it up as they had done to another house across the street recently.
Mario Wheatley, who rents a home nine houses east of where West was shot, said he watched as West''s fellow officers hurriedly placed him in a police cruiser and sped up the street.
An ambulance arrived just then, stopping in front of Wheatley''s house. A limp West was moved to the ambulance.
"My 10-year-old son was upset because he actually saw all that," said Wheatley, whose son had just returned from playing near the home where the fight ignited.
His son asked him, "Why did they do this?" Wheatley responded, "Because they don''t have any sense." He told his son to pray for the officer. He didn''t know how he would handle telling him that West didn''t make it.
Yohanna Allen stood on her front walk Saturday morning a few doors west of where the shooting happened. She gripped the carrier holding her 3-month-old daughter as she pointed to where West had crumpled in the street. Allen, who initially thought the shots were firecrackers, ran outside and saw streams of police cars arriving.
"He didn''t even have time to do anything," she said of West.
Allen said she told her 6-year-old daughter, dressed in a bright-green team shirt, not to mention the shooting during her T-ball game that morning at the school down the street.
Halton has been arrested numerous times in the past decade in South Euclid for attacking and choking family members. He was arrested once for attacking a man taking an evening stroll, who happened to walk in front of the home on Warrensville Center Road where Halton lived off and on with his mother and sister.
Halton was indicted on assault and vandalism charges in 2003 after attacking the South Euclid police officer. The court psychiatric clinic deemed him incompetent to stand trial, and he was sent to Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare System in Cleveland for treatment, according to online court records.
A Cuyahoga County common pleas judge ordered that Halton take anti-psychotic medications, specifying that Halton be injected forcibly, if needed. His case was placed on the court''s mental health docket. Staff at Northcoast said Halton was restored to competency in early 2005 and he pleaded guilty to assault and was released on bond.
Halton didn''t return for his sentencing and wasn''t picked up for nearly a year. When he was finally sentenced in February 2005, a judge gave him four years of probation, including the order to remain properly med icated.
A year later, Halton''s probation officer recommended terminating his probation, and a judge granted the request.
Calling hours for West will be from 2 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Misencik Funeral Home, 36363 Detroit Road, Avon. A funeral Mass will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, 2640 Stony Ridge Road, Avon.
Copyright 2007 Cleveland Plain Dealer
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