Updated - Officer shoots patient at Portola hospital after violent encounter
Updated 10/23/2013: The patient killed in the officer-involved shooting at Eastern Plumas Hospital in Portola on Oct. 20 has been identified as 53-year-old Mariano Mauro. The district attorney's office confirmed that Mauro died of multiple gunshot wounds.
A Plumas County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a patient at Eastern Plumas Health Care in the early hours of Sunday, Oct. 20.
During an interview Sunday morning and in a followup conversation Monday afternoon, Sheriff Greg Hagwood described what transpired.
A 53-year-old white male arrived at the Portola emergency room at approximately 9 p.m. on Saturday evening, Oct. 19. Neither he nor the hospital could disclose the reason for the visit. His name is being withheld until his family can be notified.
A few hours later, at 12:48 a.m., the sheriff’s office received a call for help, as the man had become aggressive and barricaded himself in a room.
An officer arrived at the hospital at approximately 1 a.m. and encountered the man who Hagwood described as having “improvised protective outerwear using materials in the room to cover his legs and upper body.”
What followed, according to Hagwood, was “a lengthy and incredibly violent encounter that started at one end of the hospital and ended up in the lobby area.”
Hospital staff witnessed the altercation that began in a hallway, continued through the nurses’ station, on into the lobby, and ultimately ended at the front door of the hospital.
During the prolonged struggle, the patient at various times had gained control of the officer’s taser, gun and baton.
In each instance the officer was able to regain control.
The patient initially obtained the taser, but the officer was able to break it in the struggle.
Next the man tried to take the gun. “He actually fired a round that narrowly missed the deputy,” Hagwood said.
The deputy regained control of his gun, but the patient took hold of the baton.
That’s when the deputy fired the fatal shot at the hospital’s main entrance at 1:10 a.m.
Hagwood said, “It’s incredibly fortunate that there was an officer in the Portola area and (he) could respond.”
The officer arrived alone, with backup coming from Quincy. But the incident escalated before help could arrive.
“It was a very, very violent life-threatening struggle that resulted in the officer resorting to deadly force,” Hagwood said.
According to Hagwood, the victim was a Portola resident who had experienced “numerous encounters with law enforcement,” including 175 contacts in the past couple of years.
The deputy, whose name is also being withheld, was transported to Plumas District Hospital in Quincy for evaluation. “He’s sore, but he’s OK,” Hagwood said. The deputy is now on paid administrative leave as is customary with any officer-involved shooting.
On Sunday morning yellow police tape cordoned off the main entrance to the hospital, while officers from the sheriff’s department and the Department of Justice investigated the shooting.
District Attorney David Hollister is conducting a separate parallel investigation, and Hagwood said that an outside law enforcement agency would be asked to complete an internal affairs investigation.
“I am confident that the investigation will demonstrate that the officer was left with no other alternative,” Hagwood said, and added that without the officer’s intervention, other lives could have been lost. “Had the deputy not taken those actions, we would have been involved in a terrible tragedy,” he said.
A registered nurse and nursing assistant were on duty in the acute care section of the hospital where they had been tending to the man. There was just one other patient in the hospital.
The emergency room was also staffed, with a nurse, a paramedic and an emergency medical technician. Ambulance personnel and a physician were on call.
Linda Jameson, the hospital’s director of nursing, said that counseling services would be offered to the staffers who were on duty and that all hospital employees would participate in a critical incident debriefing.
“We’re all distressed,” Jameson said on Sunday morning. “It’s been very emotional.”
Hagwood said that in the hours immediately after the incident, his deputies had been “accosted” by community members.
“I do want to emphasize that it’s inexcusable and despicable that people are making threats and jumping to conclusions,” Hagwood said.
But by Monday afternoon, his office had been receiving calls of support.
This is the second officer-involved shooting in 18 months. The last incident occurred at the Evergreen Trailer Park outside Quincy and also resulted in a fatality.
During an interview Monday afternoon, Hospital CEO Tom Hayes said that his immediate concern was “trying to get back to normal,” which required some clean up in the hallways and other areas of the hospital.
He also met with staff to discuss security, counseling, and what facts could be shared with the public.
“We have significant HIPAA concerns,” Hayes said of the law that protects a patient’s privacy.
For the short term, Hayes has hired a security team to be on the premises, but he said he would also “be doing a security assessment of the entire campus.”
As for the employees who were involved in the event, Hayes said, “They handled themselves so well during this incident.”
And he thanked the Sheriff’s Department for the quick response.
More details will be posted on plumasnews.com as they become available.