Lone conservation cop killed by a poacher

Suspcted cop killer reportedly said to the people with him in his vehicle that he didn't want to back to prison

A Pennsylvania Conservation Officer was fatally shot while investigating reports of ongoing poaching near Fairfield, a rural area south of Gettysburg. At approximately 2230 hours, Wildlife Conservation Officer David Grove contacted Adams County 911 dispatchers to report he was conducting a vehicle stop with multiple occupants. Moments later, residents reported shots being fired. Responding officers found Grove fatally wounded near his vehicle.

Officers from numerous state and local agencies spent the overnight hours both investigating the scene and attempting to locate the vehicle Grove had reported stopping. The owner of that vehicle — Christopher Lynn Johnson, 27 — was considered a person of interest although official notices stated that he was to be considered armed and dangerous and in possible need of medical attention.

By 0930 hours — some 11 hours after the shooting — a suspect who was reported as an accomplice was detained in nearby Franklin Township, where reports also indicated the suspect’s vehicle had been located. Evidence from this scene — as well as unconfirmed statements by the accomplice — indicated that WCO Grove was able to return fire and had struck his attacker.

By 1200 hours, Maryland State Police were reporting that they had located Johnson and taken him into custody. These reports also indicate that the gunman was, indeed, in need of medical attention.

Public court records indicated that Christopher Lynn Johnson has a history of burglary convictions and a 2005 plea stemming from charges of fleeing an officer and endangering the welfare of children. Unconfirmed reports are that he said he did not want to go back to prison. If this is true, it is likely he was aware of highly-publicized recent changes to Pennsylvania Game Code penalties, which now allow poachers of big game to be charged with misdemeanors that include possible prison sentences.

Grove, 31, graduated from Penn State University in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries science, and was a Deputy Conservation Officer for several years prior to being hired as a fulltime officer in 2007. He received his commission as a Wildlife Conservation Officer on March 8, 2008.

About the author

Tom Burrell began his career in maritime enforcement in 1992 when he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, following his service in the USMC Reserves during Desert Storm. He would see service in Key West, (Fla.) Norfolk, Va., and New York City, both afloat and ashore with duties which ranged from drug and alien interdiction to recreational boating safety. During this time he would serve in a variety of positions including boarding team member, boarding officer, boat crew, coxswain, and master helmsman. Achievements include Coxswain “C” School Honor Graduate, numerous Humanitarian Service awards and involvement in several high profile joint operations — including the security for JFK International Airport during the United Nations 50th Anniversary.

In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission as a Waterways Conservation Officer, a position which would include posting in both the rural north central region, and later in suburban Philadelphia. In 2002 he was promoted to patrol supervisor for the South Central Region and received the PA DUI Association “Top Gun” Award for his efforts in apprehending boaters who were under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance. Tom is currently a Captain assigned to Headquarters. He is also an instructor in the areas of firearms, hand gun retention, handcuffing, OC spray, First Aid & CPR, and Boating Under the Influence Detection/Apprehension.

In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University. In 2007 and 2008 he was granted the opportunity to address the Northeast Association of Criminal Justice Sciences, during their annual conference at Roger William’s University in Bristol (R.I.), concerning the unique search and seizure authority of conservation officers. When not working or going to school Tom enjoys hunting and fishing near his home in south central Pennsylvania and spending time with his wife Amy, daughters Paige and Johanna, and son Ben.

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