Southeast Portland

Video captures confrontation as police shoot, kill suspect

Video captures confrontation as police shoot, kill suspect »Play Video
Police said Merle Hatch used a phone receiver to simulate a handgun as he confronted a hospital security guard while trying to leave Portland Adventist Medical Center. (Photo courtesy Portland Police Bureau)

PORTLAND, Ore. – The man shot and killed by police in a hospital parking lot Sunday charged at police and was holding a black phone handset that officers mistook for a gun, police said Wednesday.

During a 5:30 p.m. news conference, police showed an approximately three-minute video shot by a nearby resident to show what happened during their confrontation with 50-year-old Merle Hatch who police said charged at them, forcing them to shoot and kill him. | Watch the video (warning: graphic content)

The incident happened Sunday night around 9:30 in a parking lot at Portland Adventist Medical Center in Southeast Portland, where Hatch was a patient.

Police said no gun was recovered at the scene of the shooting; however, they said before he confronted police in the hospital’s parking lot, Hatch stole a telephone handset, broke it in half and used it to simulate a handgun. | Click on the "listen" icon to hear police radio traffic from the incident

Security images show he confronted hospital security on two different occasions, police said.

The video captured Hatch taunting police, swearing at them and threatening to take hostages.

"Come on, play?" he yelled at police. "Close as you gonna get? That ain't close enough. Come on!"

Police Chief Mike Reese narrated a few times during the video. At one point the suspect was seen running across the parking lot. Reese said he was running toward officers. Moments later shots rang out.

The video captures the intensity of the situation that came to a climax during the last 30 seconds of the video.

As Hatch runs toward officers, an officer can be heard yelling, "Stop! Hands up!"

Hatch begins counting: "One!"

The officer yells again to Hatch to get his hands up.

Hatch yells, "Two!" and then "Three!"

Police open fire when Hatch is about 40 feet away.  A cluster of shots is heard, followed by a single shot.

City officials also released audio from police radio traffic. Officers could be heard saying the suspect was walking toward them. They demand that he put up his hands and then the officers report the suspect has a gun.

During the news conference, police also displayed two still photographs from hospital security cameras showing Hatch confronting a security guard with the broken receiver before his confrontation with police. According to police, Hatch threatened the security guard.

In addition to the chief of police, Mayor Charlie Hales was at the news conference.

He said Reese contacted him immediately after the shooting, and he went to the scene and was there for a couple of hours. Hales said his staff was involved in the initial briefing the next day and he's having an ongoing discussion with Reese on the use-of-force issue and "those larger questions, obviously, are for another day."

He added that the police bureau has kept him fully informed about the incident.

Law enforcement sources told KATU News that Hatch was serving a 10-year sentence at a federal corrections institution in Sheridan, Ore. after being convicted in a 2004 bank robbery. Sources said Hatch was given a plane ticket and sent to a halfway house in Colorado on Feb. 12, but he never showed up.

The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday identified Hatch as the suspect in a bank robbery on Feb. 15. Sgt. Adam Phillips said Hatch robbed the Wells Fargo Bank located at 12072 SE Sunnyside Road in Clackamas. Hatch presented a teller with a note that said he had a gun. No one was hurt in the robbery.

Police said they have linked Hatch to another bank robbery that occurred Wednesday, Feb. 13 just after 2:30 p.m. at the Albina Community Bank at 5636 Northeast Sandy Blvd.

Portland police said Hatch was a career criminal with arrests in California, Arizona and Colorado on a variety of charges that included homicide, theft, burglary and bank robbery. Hatch appeared to have multiple aliases, investigators said.

The officers involved in the shooting are on administrative leave during the shooting investigation, which is standard procedure. They have been identified as:

  • Sgt. Nathan Voeller, a 12-year veteran
  • Officer Andrew Hearst, a 3-year veteran
  • Officer Royce Curtiss, a 7-year veteran

After police conduct their investigation, the case will be handed over to the Multnomah County district attorney. The case will then be presented before a grand jury.

The officers involved in the shooting will remain on paid leave until after the grand jury completes its work.

Police said they will also conduct an internal investigation.

Authorities, citing privacy laws, have yet to say what problem led Hatch to seek medical attention.

Portland police have been under increased scrutiny since federal investigators determined last year that officers have engaged in a pattern of excessive force against people with mental illness. Police said Hatch had no documented history of mental illness.

Supposed to be in a halfway house

Last week Hatch was driven from the federal prison in Sheridan to Portland International Airport after getting out of prison a bit early with good behavior. He was sent on his way without any supervision.

That same scenario plays out with federal prisoners across the country every day, and it's rare they take off.

Every year the Bureau of Prisons sends inmates on their own to halfway houses.

Most federal prisoners live in a halfway house for the last several months of their sentence. A Bureau of Prisons spokesperson says the inmates are trusted to fly by themselves to their new halfway house home because "they have a lot to lose" by taking off and "the closer a prisoner gets to release, the risk of that activity declines."

A recent federal report says nearly 30,000 prisoners a year travel to their new halfway house without an escort. About 150 make a run for it.

It is unknown why Hatch did not get on that plane at PDX.

KATU News reporter Dan Tilkin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.