Early Sunday Contra Costa County sheriff's officials said the man tried to attack two deputies with a knife before they shot and killed him. They later backed away from that statement, saying they need more time to interview all of the witnesses in order to determine exactly what happened.
"This is a place of healing people. This is a place of delivering health care. This is not something we want happening in our emergency department," said Dr. William Walker, Contra Costa County Health Director.
Investigators blocked the doors of the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center with yellow tape early Sunday and diverted ambulances to other hospitals, turning the usually bustling ER into a crime scene.
Authorities say 47-year-old Paul Hammond brought himself to the hospital complaining of chest pains. Sources tell ABC7 he appeared to be intoxicated. The Rio Vista man was being treated by a nurse in a private room when he pulled out a knife and threatened her.
Two sheriff's deputies on guard as ER security heard the nurse scream and responded to the room where they both fired their guns. Contra Costa Sheriff's Department spokesman Jimmy Lee says the deputies first tried to talk to the man.
"The deputies repeatedly told him to put that knife down. And, at some point they discharged their weapons for their safety and the safety of others," he explained.
The shooting, shortly after 2 a.m., left Hammond dead on the scene. And, the incident traumatized ER staffers.
"Patients were evacuated during the incident and also employees took cover," said Dr. Walker.
They took cover by diving behind furniture.
Dr. Walker told ABC7 there were other patients in close proximity to the shooting.
The emergency room remained an active crime scene and closed to ambulances during most of its busy overnight hours. By late morning, it was back up and running.
"It's just business as usual right now, as far as care giving," one nurse told ABC7.
But, questions remain about how such a violent incident can happen in a place that is supposed to be safe.
"What happened this morning was a horrible tragedy for the patient, for his family, for our employees, for the law enforcement officers involved," Dr. Walker said.
The county hospital has a contract with the sheriff's department to have deputies on guard at the hospital 24 hours a day. The deputies involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave as is standard in all officer-involved shootings. The incident is also under investigation by the Martinez Police Department and the Contra Cost County District Attorney's Office.