Pa. hospital could be liable in fatal shooting

AP News
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Posted: Mar 28, 2012 7:00 PM
Pa. hospital could be liable in fatal shooting

The mentally ill gunman who killed a worker and wounded several others at a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center psychiatric hospital had previously threatened staff at an affiliated hospital with a baseball bat, according to a prosecutor who is trying to determine whether UPMC could be held criminally liable.

Medical records and other information show 30-year-old John Shick, held a grudge, believing he had misdiagnosed illnesses ranging from a bad ankle to pancreatitis to erectile dysfunction, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. said Wednesday.

Shick twice went to UPMC Shadyside hospital in February with the bat and threatened the staff, and yet Pittsburgh police were not called, Zappala said.

"When you take a baseball bat into a hospital, why does that not become a police matter?" Zappala said.

The hospital denies wrongdoing.

Zappala said investigators have yet to determine why Shick targeted UPMC's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, where he was treated twice in November after he was kicked off the Duquesne University campus for harassing female students with repeated requests for dates.

At the second November visit, a clinic doctor urged Shick to resume medication for schizophrenia _ after his mother told doctors he stopped taking it months before. Shick walked out and skipped a follow-up appointment in December.

"His contacts at UPMC began to get a whole lot more serious and disturbing after that," said Deputy District Mark Tranquilli, who handles homicide cases for Zappala.

In Shick's apartment, investigators found 43 drugs used to treat 20 conditions, from anti-depressants to medicines for intestinal worms. They also found two tote bags containing bottles rigged for Molotov cocktails and a "booby-trapped" money clip, apparently meant to trigger some type of explosive.

Zappala believes Shick intended to take those weapons to the psychiatric hospital but didn't because he couldn't get a cab. Instead, Shick briskly walked to the hospital with two 9mm handguns, killing a 25-year-old nurse and wounding five other employees.

Shick also fired at campus police, one of whom killed him with three shots _ one to the head _ from a rifle.

One campus officer was hit in his bulletproof vest by a Shick bullet, while another turned an ankle, in a response Zappala termed "nothing short of heroic."

"This could have been much, much, much worse," Zappala said.

UPMC spokesman Paul Wood issued a statement denying wrongdoing.

"The circumstances here, while of medical concern, did not in the opinion of our professionals warrant a criminal complaint or a civil commitment," the statement said. "When an individual's behavior does rise to that level, we follow through with the proper authorities."

One workplace expert said UPMC could face criminal charges if Zappala can prove the hospital was "grossly negligent."

"There could be criminal charges, absolutely," said Larry Barton, a professor of risk management at The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., who also teaches threat management for the FBI. "If a prosecutor says, these people did not have to die."