Convict Merle Hatch goaded Portland police, raced toward officers before they shot him
Feb 20, 2013 (The Oregonian - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Merle M. Hatch taunted police, telling them to "Come on, play," after they rushed to Portland Adventist Medical Center on reports of a man threatening staff and security guards with a gun.
In the darkened employee parking lot Sunday night, Hatch can be heard on a cellphone video yelling: "Close as you gonna get That ain't close enough, come on."
Hatch shouted that he "ain't gonna draw" and goaded the officers with obscenities to "come from behind you all, do something" and "One a ya, anyone a ya. I can't see ya anyway."
When an East Precinct sergeant and two officers -- huddled about 80 yards away in the driveway outside the emergency room -- didn't react, Hatch yelled: "I'm coming to you then, pig. Let's go! Let's go!"
Hatch ran toward them. Police shouted "Stop" and "Hands up!" Hatch responded: "One! Two! Three!"
When he got within 14 yards of them, the sergeant and officers each fired multiple rounds, killing Hatch. He fell on his back.
Police on Wednesday released the video taken by a resident who was leaning out his window across the street from the hospital and confirmed that Hatch didn't have a gun.
After the shooting, officers found half of a black telephone handle a few inches from Hatch's right hand that they believe he used to simulate a handgun.
In the minutes leading up to the shooting, officers can be heard on police dispatch audio alerting their colleagues emphatically several times that the suspect had a gun.
Listen to police dispatch audio:
Or download MP3 here.
"He does have a gun, probably in the right hand," one officer radioed. Just before the shooting, an officer radioed, "He's got the gun in his hand." Even after Hatch went down, an officer radioed: "Shots fired, Code 3 medical. He's still got the gun in his hand."
Hatch, 50, had stolen the plastic phone handle from the hospital's emergency room earlier that night, police said. They say he used it to simulate a gun when he threatened a female security guard inside the hospital and then pointed it at a security vehicle in the parking lot.
The shooting occurred at 9:36 p.m., just 12 minutes after police were called to the parking lot and before other help that police had summoned could get there.
"I think it's safe to say everyone thought it was a gun they were looking at," Assistant Chief Donna Henderson said.
The case will now go to a Multnomah County grand jury for review during the first full week of March, said Don Rees, a chief deputy district attorney. The grand jury testimony likely will be recorded, with a transcript made public.
Chief Mike Reese said the officers "intentionally kept their distance," but the encounter unfolded quickly. On the way to the call, a police sergeant had asked for a mental health crisis worker, a police dog and a police plane to respond, "but there was no time for these resources to arrive," Reese said.
Police declined to say how many gunshots were fired, but at least eight are heard on the video. They withheld information that Hatch didn't have a gun until Wednesday "basically for the integrity of the investigation," Henderson said.
Nathan Voeller, the East Precinct afternoon shift sergeant, and Officers Andrew Hearst and Royce Curtiss each fired shots. They were interviewed by police detectives Wednesday morning, more than 48 hours after the shooting. Voeller, 34, has been with the bureau for 12 years, Curtiss, 31, for seven years and Hearst, 25, for three years.
Voeller was involved in the fatal police shooting of unarmed fugitive David E. Hughes in November 2006. He fired seven rounds from an AR-15 rifle. Two other officers also fired their handguns.
Voeller also worked as one of the Police Bureau's lead defensive tactics instructors before his recent promotion to sergeant. In February 2012, he was among police trainers who was set to testify in support of Officer Ron Frashour in federal court. Frashour shot an unarmed man in the back in 2010. Voeller noted that Portland officers are trained that they don't need to see a gun before using lethal force if they believe a suspect poses an immediate risk of death or serious injury.
Two years ago, Hearst was among the officers who responded to the same hospital after a man had suffered a heart attack and crashed his car in the hospital's lot. Hearst had tried to summon medical help from the ER, only to be told to call 9-1-1.
Police did not say why Hatch had gone to the hospital's emergency room. Police didn't know until later that Hatch had an extensive criminal history, including arrests for drug-related crimes and a 2004 conviction in U.S. District Court in Colorado for bank robbery.
At the time Hatch was shot, he was considered a federal prison escapee for failing to report the night of Feb. 12 to a halfway house in Colorado after his release from federal prison in Sheridan that same day on a bank robbery conviction. He was supposed to board a plane bound for Denver.
Police have since tied him to a robbery of a Wells Fargo bank in Clackamas last Friday and the robbery of the Albina Community Bank off Northeast Sandy Boulevard last Wednesday.
Oregonian Researcher Lynne Palombo contributed to this story.
-- Maxine Bernstein; Follow maxoregonian on Twitter
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