Police bestow their top award

OLYMPIA - About a dozen Olympia police officers watched as fellow officer Chris Cook was awarded the Police Department's Medal of Valor - the highest honor given by the department - during a ceremony at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

Cook fatally shot a man who drew a loaded pistol Aug. 15 in the Providence St. Peter Hospital emergency room. Cook’s actions during the struggle for the man’s gun might have saved the lives of hospital staff members, Olympia police Cmdr. Tor Bjornstad said Tuesday.

Joseph Leonard Burkett, 43, drew the gun about 4:15 a.m. after his mother had dropped him off at the hospital for treatment of a head injury. She had warned police that her son might be armed, and police seized two loaded firearms from Burkett during an initial frisk.

Burkett apparently was able to conceal a third weapon in the hospital before he was frisked.

He had a history of mental health issues and a blood-alcohol content of 0.20 after his death, Bjornstad said. Burkett had also written a letter to his uncle indicating he was delusional and that he was prepared to head “into battle” before the confrontation at the hospital, Bjornstad said.

“Who knows what this guy would have done” if not for Cook’s actions, Bjornstad said.

Bjornstad has said that Cook was “in a fight for his life” during the scrap with Burkett, who weighed 220 to 230 pounds and was about 6 feet tall.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465