The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 29, 2012

Top 10 of 2012 – No. 2: Officers fatally shoot motorist in Oakhurst

Dave Sutor
dsutor@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — The Tribune-Democrat is counting down the top stories of 2012, as determined by voting by newsroom employees. One story will appear each day in print and e-editions between now and the end of the year. Readers can vote for their choice for the top story at www.tribdem.com/beststories.



A 27-year-old Johnstown man was fatally wounded by city police in the Oakhurst section of town on June 25.

Elip Cheatham of Ash Street was driving a 1999 Oldsmobile Intrigue on North Sheridan Street with two passengers inside, including Cardell “CJ” Clinton, who had been shot near Edder’s Den minutes earlier. At the same time, members of the Johnstown Police Department had the middle of the street blocked and were talking to Latoya Just, the driver of another vehicle. She became involved in the situation when the alleged shooter from the bar incident, ShyTyquon Lawton, 27, of the 300 block of Oak Street, got into her white Pontiac Grand Am and told her to drive away.

Police officers ordered Cheatham to stop.

Instead, he continued toward them at a high rate of speed, according to the officers.

Three unidentified officers then fired at the vehicle, killing Cheatham. Clinton, who was lying on the back seat, received no additional injuries. The other passenger, Hayward Gaines III, was grazed on one leg. Cheatham was not armed. He had not been using drugs or alcohol, according to an autopsy report.

Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan ruled that the officers used justifiable force.

“The events that occurred were tragic. But a greater tragedy was averted because of the actions of the officers in question,” Callihan said. “These officers had a duty to protect and defend the life of the civilian in their custody, their own lives, the lives of fellow officers (nearby). And they performed their duties properly.”

Just disagreed with the finding.

“I am speaking out because of the fact that no matter how fast he was going, I just felt like the shooting wasn’t justifiable,” she said. “There are other methods. They are also trained to do other things to prevent stuff like this from happening.”

She speculated that Cheatham, in an attempt to rush Clinton to a hospital, tried to avoid the officers by driving around them and into a nearby Save-A-Lot parking lot.

“I really don’t think they were driving to hurt someone because they tried to turn, as if they were trying to go straight through the opening of which the parking lot was,” Just said.

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