Federal prison escapee, a bank robber, shot in hospital parking lot

By all accounts, the man who provoked police into shooting him to death in the Portland Adventist Medical Center parking lot was a very troubled person …

SE Main Street is blocked off, as police encounter a man, who they believe is armed, in the Portland Adventist Medical Center parking lot.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The story leading up to how the life of 50-year-old Merle Mikal Hatch came to an end the evening of February 17 on the grounds of Portland Adventist Medical Center (PAMC) in an officer-involved shooting apparently began decades before.

According to public records, Hatch had been in and out of trouble – and prison – most of his adult life.

When he was released from the federal prison in Sheridan on February 12, instead of flying to Denver and checking into a “pre-release” center as he was directed to do, Hatch apparently decided to go on crime spree in Portland.

Police say they believe this is Merle Mikal Hatch, robbing the Albina Community Bank, just one day after he was released from federal prison. Bank surveillance images

Instead of using his airline ticket, Hatch decided to stay in Portland. Allegedly, he held up the Albina Community Bank on NE Sandy Boulevard at 2:41 p.m. on February 13, and then a Wells Fargo branch on SE Sunnyside Road in Clackamas on February 15 at about 5:00 p.m.

It’s unclear, though, why Hatch “checked in” to the PAMC Emergency Department at 9:30 p.m. on February 17.

-3 Holding what looks like a gun partially hidden in his hand, Hatch causes alarm in the Adventist Medical Center Emergency Department. PAMC surveillance images

PAMC Director Marketing & Communications Judy Leach says the hospital is in “lock down”, during the incident.

“A patient in the Emergency Department told a staff member that he had possession of a gun and would use it on the employee,” said Judy Leach, PAMC Director Marketing & Communications.

“Hospital staff responded accordingly, by initiating a ‘code silver’, indicating a combative person with a weapon was on the premises of the hospital,” Leach added. “Hospital personnel immediately called 911 requesting police assistance.”

Hatch demanded that an employee lead him to an exit, Leach continued. “Once the exit was visible, the suspect quickly departed the building, alone.”

This man, Merle Mikal Hatch, strides out of hospital’s Emergency Department. US Marshall’s Service image

Walking east from the Emergency Department, Hatch entered the dimly-lit employee parking lot.

“The hospital went into lock-down to keep patients and staff safe,” said Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Public Information Officer Sgt. Pete Simpson.

Within minutes, PPB East Precinct District officers were headed toward the Mill Park Neighborhood of outer East Portland, shutting off SE Main Street, which borders the north side of PAMC.

Once in the parking lot, for reasons unknown, Hatch jumped up on a red car and started jeering police.

An area resident shot a cell-phone video of what transpired next (Hatch is only seen for a brief moment) from a window.

For a brief moment, Hatch is seen walking toward police, in this still frame of a video shot by a witness.

In the recording, Hatch is heard taunting officers with “Come on, let’s play! I ain’t going to draw. Come on! Come up from behind something! I’m going to take hostages you, f*****s.” [To watch this video – laced with foul language – see the video police released on YouTube: CLICK HERE.]

“The officers intentionally kept their distance, estimated to be about 65 yards, while they were waiting for additional resources,” Simpson later said.

However, during the course of the encounter, the Hatch jumped down off the vehicle and charged at the officers, who can be heard shouting, “Stop! Hands up!”

Instead of complying, Hatch shouted “Come on!” and as he jogged toward the officers counted down, “One! Two! Three!”

“Officers deployed lethal force from 14 yards away,” Simpson said. There were several loud reports echoing amidst the hospital and professional buildings.

Area visitor Marcus Beck reports hearing gunshots coming from the hospital parking lot.

“I was sitting with my girlfriend at the Cherry Blossom Apartments,” said Marcus Beck, who police let drive out of the area. “I heard a bunch of these bangs. She asked me what was it was; I told her I though they were gunshots.”

Beck continued, “I heard a bunch of them go off at once. We’re talking probably nine shots.”

With ballistic shields raised, officers approached the Hatch, who was drawing his last breaths.

Investigators believe Hatch broke off a hospital pay-phone receiver, to create what looked like a handgun to hospital personnel, and also to responding officers. PPB evidence image

Instead of finding a gun, investigators recovered a black piece of plastic near the Hatch’s body. “Detectives believe that the suspect used this piece of plastic to simulate [what he said was] a handgun, when he encountered hospital security at two different times, and later Portland Police officers,” Simpson later revealed.

“Detectives have not recovered a handgun, and now do not believe that the suspect ever possessed a handgun during this encounter,” Simpson added.

The PPB Mobile Precinct parks on SE Main Street, serving as the base for the investigation.

“An East Precinct Sergeant and two officers involved in the incident were put on paid administrative leave pending the ongoing investigation,” the Police Bureau spokesman concluded. That’s standard procedure.

Anyone with information about Hatch is asked to contact Detective Bryan Steed at (503) 823-0395 or Bryan.Steed@PortlandOregon.gov.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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