Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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PA: Slain conservation officer laid to rest

Waynesboro, Pa. – As the alleged killer of a Pennsylvania Game
Commission officer ponders his fate in the Adams County Adult
Correctional Facility, the family of David Grove, slain in the line
of duty Nov. 11, mourned their loss at a funeral that drew hundreds
of law enforcement personnel from around the country to this
Franklin County town Nov. 21.

Grove, 31, was slain during a gun battle with a suspected
poacher off Schriver Road in Freedom Township, near Gettysburg,
around 10:30 Veterans Day night, according to Pennsylvania State
Police.

Convicted felon Christopher Lynn Johnson, 27, of Fairfield, is
charged with first-degree homicide, illegal possession of a
firearm, and other charges in Grove’s death and was scheduled for a
preliminary hearing, Nov. 24.

“If the evidence shows this defendant intentionally shot law
enforcement in the line of duty, I will seek the death penalty,”
said Adams County District Attorney Shawn Wagner, days before Grove
was laid to rest by his parents, siblings, colleagues and
friends.

Grove, who lived in Fairfield, was the first Pennsylvania game
warden in 95 years to have been killed on the job. He had been a
commissioned officer since 2008.

State police said Grove caught Johnson and companion Ryan
Laumann, 19, of Fairfield, jacklighting deer, called for backup,
and ordered the two men out of their truck. As Grove attempted to
handcuff Johnson, managing to secure just his right wrist, a
“ferocious exchange of gunfire” began, with Johnson shooting Grove
four times from a .45-calibre handgun, and Grove getting shot in
the hip, police said.

By the time backup arrived, Grove was dead from a gunshot wound
to the neck, and Johnson and Laumann had fled in Johnson’s pickup
truck. A spike buck killed with a .22 rifle was recovered from the
scene of the incident.

Police said Laumann asked to be let out of the truck, and
Johnson later abandoned his truck, shot off the handcuffs, and
tossed the gun into the woods. He flagged a ride to his
stepfather’s hunting camp from an unsuspecting motorist who saw him
limping along a road.

State police were waiting for him when he arrived at camp the
next morning. Police said Johnson admitted to shooting Grove,
indicating he did not want to go back to prison for firearms
possession.

Laumann turned himself in and became a cooperative witness,
according to his attorney Steve Rice, who said he did not expect
Laumann to be charged in connection with Grove’s death.

The Game Commission said Laumann has a history of Game Code
violations and had previously been busted by Grove.

Because assaults on conservation officers are so rare, the
public may fail to understand that they are as much at risk as any
other law enforcement officer, said Game Commission spokesman Jerry
Feaser.

“Patrolling areas purported to have poaching, especially at
night, puts them on par with officers assigned to patrol dark city
alleys. Sometimes they can have backup within minutes. Other times
there’s no backup, or they’re in dead zones with no cell phone
coverage.”

Rich Palmer, the agency’s head of law enforcement, said Grove’s
death “has been traumatic to everyone,” and the agency’s 200
commissioned officers and 450 deputies are being offered grief and
stress counseling. He also said that while it appeared Grove had
“followed procedures to a tee, we’ll conduct an administrative
investigation to see if anything can be improved.”

“From what we know so far, the officer did everything textbook,”
Palmer said. “The difficulty of these situations is that it’s the
bad guy making the decision to initiate the assault, so the officer
is reacting and a little behind the timeline.

“The dynamics are happening so fast, very often it’s one of
those things that there’s little an officer can do.”

Although Palmer indicated it is too soon to know whether Grove’s
death will prompt his agency to implement new policies and
procedures, he expects officers to approach field work with
increased caution.

“I think some of our officers will want to patrol even more
because an officer was killed,” said Palmer. “But they’ll have a
heightened sense of awareness.”

Those who worked with Grove were especially shaken. Darren
David, an Adams County wildlife conservation officer, had patrolled
with Grove just the weekend before he was killed. “It makes me sad
and upset. It brings out a lot of emotions in me,” he said.

“But it doesn’t nullify my desire to do what I’m doing.”

He recalled Grove’s commitment to law enforcement. “Dave always
expressed a deep passion for his work, but never fear,” he
said.

Kevin Mountz, a Fulton County conservation officer, helped train
Grove, who served as his deputy. “His death has affected me – it’s
affected all of us – but our work still has to be done,” he
said.

In his 21 years with the agency, Mountz has kept his own
incident statistics that highlight the danger officers face. “In
three out of five traffic stops, there’s some type of firearm in
the vehicle,” he said.

“I once stopped an ‘actor’ who was wanted on a felony warrant
for armed robbery in West Virginia and he had a loaded .30-.30
rifle on the passenger side of his vehicle. I took him into custody
immediately.”

New anti-poaching laws took effect in September, raising
penalties, including the prospect of jail, even for first-time
offenders, but Palmer doesn’t think they triggered Grove’s
death.

“Obviously, any time penalties go up, there will be the
potential for more resistance from certain ‘subjects.’ But the
‘subject’ in this case probably didn’t have any idea what the
penalties were.

“His motivation was, he was a convicted felon, and he knew if he
was caught with a firearm, he was going back to jail,” Palmer said.
“If you look at his criminal history, he’d been through the
grinder. When he saw the lights behind him, he knew he was in
trouble.”

Palmer remembered Grove from classes he taught at the
commission’s Ross Leffler School of Conservation, and called him an
outstanding officer. Before becoming an officer, Grove had served
as a deputy conservation officer in Franklin County from 2001 to
2007.

He graduated with a degree in wildlife and fisheries science
from Penn State University in 2004, and worked his senior year at
the university’s Deer Research Facility at the University Park
campus. Grove previously had attended Appalachian Bible College in
Bradley, W.Va.

He was recalled as a devout Christian who lived his religion.
“He’d never say a cuss word. I couldn’t even get him to go out and
have a beer with me!” said wildlife conservation officer David, who
described him as “the kind of man you’d want your son to be.”

“He was good natured, filled with humor, absolutely honest, and
considerate in every respect.”

“Even the guys he arrested, often they’d shake his hand and
apologize after the fact.”

Days after he was killed, Grove still appeared to be watching
over Adams County, said David.

“An officer was on the mountain collecting evidence related to
his death and he came upon a guy dumping deer carcasses, someone
Dave had been trying to nail for two years.

“The officer wouldn’t have been on the mountain if it weren’t
for Dave. So, you see, he’s still helping catch the bad guys even
after he’s gone.”

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