Sorry if this is a rerun, but I haven't seen it posted yet
Police Analyze Beanbag Shooting
Chief waits for reports but says officers were in "no-win" situation.
By John Chambliss
LAKELAND -- Inquiries proceeded on two fronts Thursday as Lakeland police and state health-care officials looked into the case of an 81-year-old nursing-home resident who was hit with four beanbag charges fired from a police shotgun.
Police Chief Cliff Diamond said he was awaiting additional reports from officers before making any decisions, but he added that the two officers involved in the incident Tuesday night were put in a no-win situation.
"They pretty much followed the use-of-force (policy) by giving commands and warnings," Diamond said. "In days of old, there is a high likelihood that this guy would have been shot."
Police are reviewing the actions of the two officers who used the beanbag charges and a chemical spray to subdue Willie D. Foster after he threatened a nurse and officers with a glass vase Tuesday night.
Diamond said he would have more information on the incident today when the two officers complete their reports.
Officials for the state Agency for Health Care Administration said their look at the incident will involve whether the nursing-home staff was properly trained and used the proper procedures.
"They should have a plan to deal with violent patients," said Kim Reed, spokeswoman with the agency. "If it were a patient with dementia, they should have special training to deal with it."
Foster wasn't seriously injured. The former longshoreman was transferred back to Grace Healthcare from Lakeland Regional Medical Center on Thursday evening, according to his daughter, Felicia Kennedy.
"He is doing fine," Kennedy said.
"I plan to look at other nursing homes," Kennedy said. "But right now, I don't have anyone who could stay with him."
Grace Healthcare, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., released a written statement Thursday but didn't go into detail about the incident.
"A resident became unusually agitated to the point that a staff member, concerned for the safety of the resident and the total welfare of the other residents nearby, contacted the local police department," the statement said.
More information about the incident became available on Thursday.
Nursing home staff had called for police help, and when Officers Billie Minser and Jerry Monroe arrived about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, they heard yelling coming from a room. Staff members told them Foster had a glass vase and was threatening staff.
Foster, who stands about 5 feet 11 inches and weighs 190 pounds, was waving the vase while seated in his wheelchair.
He had earlier chased a health-care worker, and the worker was hiding behind a cart when police arrived, Diamond said.
"He was very ambulatory," Diamond said.
When officers arrived, he was in a wheelchair holding the 10-inch vase above his head. "They gave verbal commands, and he didn't respond," Diamond said.
"He started yelling at them about being in the army and for them to go ahead and shoot," Diamond said.
Officers could not determine whether the vase was jagged or broken, and they again ordered the man to drop the vase. Monroe then fired one of the beanbags at Foster's left arm, the one holding the vase, according to police.
Foster was hit three more times, twice in the arm and once in the upper chest, police said.
After the third shot in the arm, Foster stood from his wheelchair, raised the vase and began swinging, police said.
Foster, who suffers from mild dementia and has a pacemaker, fell after the shot in the upper chest, and Minser used pepper spray on him, police said.
At the hospital, Foster apologized to the officers and told them he was not mad, Diamond said.
He told the officers that he was angry with staff members at the nursing home because they would not let him sleep on an army mattress, Diamond said.
Diamond said police were told that a male nurse who normally controls Foster when he becomes angry was not at the facility Tuesday night.
Diamond said he wanted to fully review the report before saying the use of the beanbag charges was justified or whether less dangerous options could have been used. The beanbags are intended to disable but not severely injure a threatening or violent suspect, but they can cause injuries and even death in some cases.
When asked whether a blanket or shield could have been used to subdue Foster, Diamond said shields were not available.
On Thursday, several investigators with the Agency for Health Care Administration met with nurses at the home and questioned them about what led to Foster's anger, Reed said.
If investigators determine that the nurses made an error, Grace Healthcare could be required to make a change in training, Reed said.
The nursing home has been in Lakeland for about 30 years. Grace Healthcare has three other nursing homes in Florida.
Ed Towey, a spokesman for Florida Healthcare, a nursing home trade group, said it was uncommon but not unheard of for a nurse to call police when a patient becomes violent.
"If the staff member fears for her life or safety, then it is done," Towey said. "With dementia care, they do become violent or combative."
John Chambliss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org