Officer injured when gun discharges inside Vernal hospital during struggle with parolee

Published: Sunday, April 27 2014 6:05 p.m. MDT

VERNAL — A Naples police officer suffered shrapnel injuries Saturday when a parolee from Oregon attempted to disarm him inside the emergency room at Ashley Regional Medical Center, authorities said.

James Robert Olson, 30, was at the hospital for a medical evaluation prior to being booked into jail following a bizarre series of events earlier in the day, Assistant Vernal Police Chief Keith Campbell said.

When the officer removed Olson's handcuffs about 9 p.m. to let him use the bathroom, Olson went for the officer's gun, Campbell said.

"The fight ensued. They wrestled on the bed and ended up on the ground. The suspect was over him with his hand on the weapon," said Naples Police Chief Mark Watkins.

During the struggle, the Glock .40-caliber pistol discharged as it began to come out of the officer's holster.

The bullet struck the floor in the emergency room exam room, creating a small crater, and the officer suffered shrapnel wounds to his hand. Olson, who was quickly brought back under control, was uninjured and taken immediately to the Uintah County Jail, Campbell said.

Debbie Spafford, spokeswoman for the medical center, said it is hospital policy for an officer to remain with a suspect under arrest, but it is up to the officer's discretion whether to keep the suspect in restraints.

"Immediately we had an influx of officers from all agencies within the hospital, including the SWAT unit," Spafford said of the shooting.

Olsen's first encounter with police on Saturday happened about 3 p.m., when a Naples police officer on patrol near 1500 East and 600 South saw a man drive a green pickup truck through a chain link fence at Lone Wolf Wireline Inc., according to Watkins.

The man got out of the pickup, climbed into a truck parked outside the business and apparently tried to get it started, Watkins said. When the man spotted the approaching officer, he got back in the green pickup and drove off.

As the officer followed, the man crashed through two chain link fences at nearby Raptor Industries, Watkins said. The man then got out of the green pickup and attempted to take a truck from that business, but went back to his truck and drove off again as the officer closed in.

The man circled back to Lone Wolf Wireline with multiple officers pursuing him. He left the green truck a third time, climbed into a large crane truck and drove it a short distance before hitting a cement wall at low speed, Watkins said.

"One of the officers was alongside the crane truck at that point and used a Taser on the guy," the chief said. "It had no effect on him and the fight was on."

Police were able to get the man — later identified as Olson — into handcuffs after one of the officers said the Taser would be used again if Olson didn't stop fighting, Watkins said.

Olson was taken to the hospital where tests confirmed he was under the influence of methamphetamine, the chief said. He was admitted to the hospital and an officer was assigned to guard him until he could be transferred to the jail.

Brooke Adams, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Corrections, confirmed that Olson is being supervised by Adult Probation & Parole agents in Utah under a compact agreement with the state of Oregon. Olson was released from prison in Oregon in November after serving time for armed robbery and possession of meth, according to Watkins.

Court records in Utah show Olson has misdemeanor convictions in Duchesne County for assault and violation of a protective order. He is being held without bail after Saturday's arrest because of his status as a parolee.

The officer who was injured Saturday night — a 15-year law enforcement veteran — has been placed on medical leave until he is cleared to return to duty, Watkins said.

The chief believes the officer acted appropriately and "showed some great restraint." But an internal investigation will be conducted and the incident will cause him to take another look at policies involving prisoners at the hospital.

"It is my intention to get with the other chiefs and sheriffs in the area ... (and) with the hospital to see if we can come up with a better standard ... on handcuffing," Watkins said.

Contributing: Sandra Yi

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com, Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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