Hospital shooting unlikely to change gun policy

June 13, 1995|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

With violence rising in city hospital emergency rooms, Baltimore police said they will continue to allow officers to take their firearms into hospitals -- even in light of Sunday's incident in which a deranged man nearly shot an officer with his own gun.

Sam Ringgold, a city police spokesman, said the department allows officers to use their own discretion in checking their guns at hospitals and no plans are in the works to change that policy.

Police union officials support that decision, saying officers frequently face violent people in emergency rooms.

"Even though we almost had a very unfortunate incident, we've just had too many problems in emergency rooms. Walking around in there unarmed would present serious problems," said Officer Gary McLhinney, a spokesman for the city police union.

Many hospitals give police the option of "checking their gun at the door" in a security cabinet, but officers typically don't like the idea and keep their guns.

That almost turned deadly Sunday morning for Officer Gregory Eames, who was overpowered by Omar Jamal Wise, 26, in an emergency room hallway at University of Maryland Medical Center.

Mr. Wise, a robbery suspect who had tried to hang himself in his cell at the city jail, reportedly went berserk after his handcuffs were removed so he could be checked by health workers. A hospital security officer, Edron Lonaberger Jr., shot and killed Mr. Wise as he stood over the officer threatening to shoot him.

University Medical Center has a "gun box" by the nurse's station where officers can check their weapons at their own discretion, but "a lot of times the city police object to taking their guns off," said Dr. Brian Browne, clinical director of the hospital's emergency department.

"Looking at it from their point of view, I can see why," Dr. Browne said. "The fact of the matter is that we have some very dangerous, violent people come in here."

Sunday's shooting is similar to a July 1979 incident at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in which Baltimore Police Officer William D. Albers was fatally shot five times with his own gun during a struggle with a mental patient.

The patient, Willie M. Shaw, was also fatally shot in the skirmish.

Since then, Johns Hopkins doesn't allow guns in its psychiatric ward, requiring all law enforcement officers -- including its own security personnel -- to check their weapons, said Ron Sauder, a Hopkins spokesman.

Dr. Browne said University Medical Center administrators are talking about possible changes in their security policy in light of Sunday's incident, but he said he doubted that a mandatory gun check would be imposed on police.

"I don't think the gun box is necessarily the solution. I for one like having people around who are properly armed. Let's face it, it was an armed guard that saved [Officer Eames'] life," Dr. Browne said.

Sunday's incident isn't the only recent shooting in the already emotionally overwrought emergency rooms.

In January 1993, Officer Darlene Early shot and killed burglary suspect Raleigh D. Lemon after she said he tried to grab her gun just outside the emergency room at Bon Secours Hospital.

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