Durham DA suggests officers’ guns not be allowed in Duke ER following January shooting

·6 min read
Duke University Hospital

After a Duke University police officer fatally shot an armed man in Duke University Hospital emergency room this year, the Durham district attorney “strongly suggests” a way to prevent it from happening again.

Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry said Duke University Medical Center and Duke University Police should consider a policy that requires officers to secure their weapons before entering emergency departments.

She made the suggestion in her analysis of the shooting from Jan. 14. In her report, issued June 6, she said the officer won’t face charges. The shooting was one of three fatal shootings by Durham law enforcement in which Deberry said there wasn’t evidence needed for criminal charges.

On Jan. 14, a campus police officer shot and killed Raishawn Steven Jones in Duke University Hospital emergency room after officials said Jones grabbed a city police officer’s gun when he was not restrained.

Deberry wrote that the campus police officer followed his department’s procedures on using deadly force against suspects who are armed and are endangering lives. Evidence suggests that a “reasonable officer” would have believed the city officer and others in the hospital were “in danger of imminent deadly physical force from Jones.”

“However, it is worth noting that the presence of guns in the Emergency Department dramatically increased the level of risk of harm to others that night,” she wrote in a letter to the Duke University Police Department

Current policies at the Duke, UNC and WakeMed hospital systems permit armed law enforcement officers in hospital emergency rooms.

A spokeswoman for Duke’s communications department told The N&O that the hospital is reviewing its firearm policies but did not answer questions about Deberry’s recommendation.

What happened at Duke Hospital

Jones, 38, had been taken to the hospital for a medical evaluation after police say he crashed into a car and hit a pedestrian, Deberry wrote in her decision.

The fatal scuffle occurred after the city police officer removed Jones’ restraints so he could use the restroom. Jones became agitated and uncooperative when medical personnel evaluated him to be discharged.

An autopsy found Jones had at least 0.57 milligrams of Phencyclidine, commonly known as PCP or angel dust, in his body at the time of his death. The illegal substance can cause hallucinations, distort the senses and cause violent behavior. It can also induce psychosis.

Jones had already grabbed the city officer’s gun and fired a round in the emergency room after campus officer Sgt. Lex Allan Popovich arrived.

Hospital staff called the Behavior Emergency Response team when the altercation started between Jones and the officer and sent out a “Red BET” alert, meaning someone is violent or assaulted someone. This alerted two Duke campus officers to respond to the scene.

“We have a patient that took a gun from a cop, and he’s shooting,” a 911 caller told a police dispatcher, The N&O previously reported.

Deberry notes that the Duke officer reported having 18 rounds in his service weapon and an additional 36 rounds in his duty belt.

If the officer had been “required to secure his weapon when entering the ED, the physical altercation between the two very large men would have little risk of injuring other people in the area that night,” Deberry wrote.

Hospital shootings

Data shows that what happened at Duke isn’t an anomaly in American hospitals. A Johns Hopkins University study showed that nearly 1 in 4 emergency department shootings from 2000 to 2011 involved someone attempting to take a weapon from an armed officer.

There were 154 hospital-related shootings identified with 235 injured or dead victims, the study said.

In some major U.S. hospital systems, security personnel don’t carry guns. At Massachusetts General Hospital, the largest teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School, security personnel must undergo extra training and carry only pepper spray, which was only used 11 times from 2006 to 2016, The New York Times reported.

Security officers in public New York City emergency departments can only use plastic wrist restraints.

Medical experts say that “uniforms and weapons” can exacerbate delusions in psychotic or paranoid patients, The New York Times reported.

“Patients ... shouldn’t be hauled into weaponized environments in times of crisis, where the visibility of armed guards may very well intensify the paranoia and distress for which they need urgent medical treatment,” wrote Jennifer Tsai, a Yale emergency doctor, in an op-ed against armed police in emergency rooms.

The arresting Durham officer attempted to handcuff Jones again after he was released from the restroom and had become agitated.

As the officer attempted to restrain him, Jones stared at the officer’s gun and mumbled “Glock. Glock,” followed by the officer yelling “Don’t go for my gun!” according to body camera footage reviewed by Deberry.

Duke, WakeMed, UNC hospital gun policies

Jason Zivica, Duke University Hospital Assistant Vice President of Emergency Services, previously told WRAL in June that all Duke Health facilities are “gun-free zones” and that emergency rooms are equipped with metal detectors.

Zivica referred The N&O’s questions to Duke’s communications department.

Researchers at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania recommend that law enforcement officers not be allowed to interview patients until they are considered to be mentally and medically stable by hospital staff.

“Law enforcement officers should not interview patients until they are mentally ready to understand and participate,” the researchers said in a 2018 report. That includes patients not being “sedated or narcotized,” or under the influence of drugs.

At Duke, law enforcement didn’t interview Jones. Medical personnel were evaluating him to determine if he could be discharged. The campus officer was not present during this step, Deberry wrote.

“During this evaluation, Jones became increasingly agitated and indicated that he wanted to leave the hospital,” Deberry wrote. “As Jones began to leave the room, medical personnel motioned for Officer Stone to enter the exam room.”

At UNC hospitals, police officers and security personnel are allowed to remain armed while on duty and are required to go through rigorous training, said UNC spokesman Alan Wolf.

WakeMed Campus Police and local law enforcement are allowed to enter emergency departments and other WakeMed facilities with their service weapons when on duty, according to Kristin Kelly, a spokeswoman for WakeMed facilities in Wake County.

“When these types of tragedies occur on hospital campuses, it hits close to home for us,” Kelly said in an email. “We are taking this feedback to develop an action plan to see what improvements may be needed.”

WakeMed’s Workplace Violence Prevention Committee reviews hospital security efforts.

In the past month, there have been other hospital-connected shootings that have garnered national attention, though neither occurred in the emergency department. In Goldsboro, a man accidentally fired a shot at Wayne UNC Hospital that injured his sister. Police said he did not intend to discharge his weapon, WRAL reported, but it spurred a hospital lockdown and the man was charged with carrying a concealed weapon.

On June 2, there was a mass shooting in Tulsa, Okla., where a man killed two doctors and two other people after going into a medical building on the Saint Francis Hospital campus, CNN reports. The man blamed his surgeon for pain following surgery, the police chief said, CNN reports.

Read the Durham DA’s findings on fatal shooting in Duke Hospital emergency room

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