Patient shot dead by police at Olympia hospital

Patient shot dead by police at Olympia hospital
OLYMPIA, Wash. - An unruly patient at an Olympia hospital was shot dead by a police officer early Saturday when the patient pulled out a gun in an emergency treatment room, officers said.

The bizarre incident began at about 2:15 a.m. Saturday when the security staff at Providence St. Peter Hospital called police to ask for help in dealing with an unruly, 220-pound patient who was possibly armed.

Officers arrived at the hospital and were directed to a 43-year-old Elma man in the emergency room who had been brought into the hospital by his mother with a head injury. The mother told hospital personnel he might be armed.

The officers searched the man, identified as Joseph Leonard Burkett, and found two loaded handguns. The guns were confiscated, and officers later discovered they had been stolen from a home in McCleary.

Burkett remained in the emergency room with police present while treatment for his head injury continued.

About two hours later, Burkett was scheduled for a medical test, but when hospital staff began to get him ready for the test, he again became agitated and unruly, police said.

The officer who was on guard entered the treatment room to assist the emergency room staff. When he did, Burkett pulled out yet another gun.

The officer and Burkett wrestled for the weapon. During the struggle, the officer fired one shot at the patient.

Hospital staff immediately began treating Burkett for the gunshot wound, but they were unable to save him. He died there in the treatment room.

The officer involved in the shooting is a 13-year veteran of the Olympia Police Department. He has been placed on administrative leave, in accordance with standard procedure, during an investigation of the shooting.

Police said one main focus of the investigation will be to determine how the patient got into the treatment room - after he had been searched - with a third firearm.

"We're not sure where it came from," says Sgt. Jim Partin of the Thurston County Sheriff's Department. "It's part of the investigation obviously to find out. Was it on his person? Was it hidden in the room? (We) don't know where it came from - if it came in a backpack, or coat. Who knows?"

Hospital officials said nothing remotely like this incident has ever happened there before.

Officers later determined that all three of the guns confiscated at the hospital were stolen from inside a house in McCleary.

Officials say they believe Burkett entered the house through a shattered window while the homeowner is out of town, then took the three guns from a small arsenal of dozens of weapons inside the home.

Police came to the home Saturday afternoon and removed the remaining weapons for safekeeping at the homeowner's request.

It appears Burkett lived in a low-income housing complex in Elma, about 30 miles southwest of Olympia.

Elma police say their records show that one of their officers had a run-in with Burkett just the other night.