The Lebanon County District Attorney’s Office ruled the use of deadly force by a private citizen against a 33-year-old Lebanon city man in May 2023 was justified under Pennsylvania’s self-defense laws.
The ruling comes as a result of a months-long, joint investigation by the Lebanon County Detective Bureau and Lebanon City Police Department, officials said in a news release Monday afternoon.
On May 3, the private citizen shot the decedent, Thomas Vance, one time in his upper torso near the 100 block of Jones Street. Despite life-saving measures by EMTs and medical providers, Vance died as a result of the lone gunshot wound.
Officials said because the shooting is ruled lawful, the shooter would not be identified. The shooter is only described in the release as a male “private citizen.”
“Any loss of life is tragic,” District Attorney Pier Hess Graf said in Monday’s release. “Families are left without their loved ones. In this instance, the fatality is especially tragic as it was wholly avoidable.”
Months prior to the May 3 shooting, Vance was serving time at the Lebanon County jail. While he was incarcerated, Vance left his personal belongings in the care of a third-party who was not identified by officials.
“Vance paroled from jail a short time prior to his death; he paroled to a local recovery program and resided therein,” officials said in the release.
The day before the shooting, Vance witnessed police arrest the person holding his personal items. That person told Vance his personal items resided with the private citizen.
On the day of the shooting, Vance went to the citizen’s home for the initial purpose of locating his items, attempting to enter the rear entrance. The citizen was working on a vehicle parked near his home.
Vance approached the citizen twice to ask what happened to his belongings, with officials saying that the second time he “jumped forward towards the citizen multiple times.” The citizen swung a silver tool towards Vance as he pulled a weapon out of his sweatshirt.
“The investigation revealed a backpack carried by Vance before and after the incident; the front pouch revealed a switchblade knife with apparent fresh blood,” officials said in the release. “DNA forensic testing showed the blood belonged to Vance.”
Officials said they also obtained video that showed the fight, as well as Vance retrieving the weapon from his pocket.
During the struggle, Vance was able to relieve the citizen of his pipe and chased him back towards his home. As he caught up to the citizen, Vance was able to strike him twice over his head with the pipe.
“The citizen fell to the ground,” the release states. “As he fell, Vance grabbed him and again used an overhand motion to strike the citizen’s head with the pipe. The citizen yelled ‘you’re going to jail’ and Vance walked away.”
As both men were able to walk towards the citizen’s vehicle, the citizen was able to retrieve the handgun from his front passenger door. He pointed the gun at Vance’s direction, while Vance “taunted him, chased him, and continued to aggressively hold the black pipe.”
“The citizen told Vance to ‘get away from him;’ Vance continued to aggressively follow the citizen despite the gun pointed in his direction and the verbal directive to stay away,” officials said. “After multiple efforts to evade Vance, the citizen fired one time at Vance’s upper torso.”
Vance walked away, dropping the pipe and picking up his nearby backpack, and walked down a nearby street before he collapsed to the ground. He remained there until EMTs arrived at the scene minutes later.
Vance’s autopsy revealed the cause of death to be the result of the lone gunshot wound. Vance is survived by his wife and daughter.
As a result of the entire investigation and evidence produced, Graf said the citizen’s use of deadly force is lawful under Pennsylvania’s laws of self-defense and the Castle Doctrine. The citizen fired a lone shot in an effort to protect himself from a repeat of Vance’s earlier attack and continued chase.
Police in the area received various videos of the incident from residents and businesses in the area. Officials said the video shows Vance verbally taunted the citizen even after the firearm’s reveal. Vance never tried to disengage or de-escalate the situation, nor did he ever drop his weapon.
“Had the decedent chosen a lawful route to reclaim his property, had he not approached a second time aggressively, had he at any moment walked away in lieu of escalating the situation, the citizen would not have utilized his firearm,” Graf said. “The video makes it clear the citizen resorted to the gunshot only after the citizen undertook multiple efforts to make the decedent leave his property and leave him alone. … The citizen acted lawfully, but regrettably, in the death of the decedent.”
Graf added that her office will not be taking any interviews regarding the incident.
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Matthew Toth is a reporter for the Lebanon Daily News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DAMattToth.
This article originally appeared on Lebanon Daily News: Lebanon DA: Citizen was ‘justified’ in fatal shooting of man in May